Big IT denies NSA spies on its servers

While President Barack Obama’s office defended moves by the NSA to monitor phone calls, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google have denied claims that government spooks have direct access to their servers.

The claim was made in the Washington Post which reported that US National Security Agency and the FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading US internet companies” through a secret program known as PRISM.

Huge amounts of data including audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs were stored by the Men In Black.

Google said that, despite previous reports that it had forged a “back door” for the government, it had never provided any such access to user data.

Microsoft said that it had not voluntarily participated in any government data collection and only complies “with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers”. The key word here is voluntarily.

Apple shocked the world by giving a quote on this particular question. Spokesperson Steve Dowling said the company had never heard of PRISM. It did not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers, Dowling said.

However, the Washington Post reported that Apple held out for more than five years after PRISM enlisted its first corporate partner, in May 2007, for “unknown reasons”.

Facebook and Yahoo said that they have never given the goverment direct access to their servers and they would only do so with a court order. Further they will slap anyone with a white glove who says otherwise.

While people in civilised countries might be putting down the whole issue as something you expect to hear from the United States, there are a lot of good reasons for all of us to be concerned.

If PRISM is working the way the Washington Post claims, it means that all data which passes through the US has been sniffed and stored by spooks.

Any corporate secrets, any personal data, which had the misfortune to cross US state lines can be read by the US’s intelligence agencies.

It is also important to note that the internet companies were pretty specific about saying that they did not share the data directly to the NSA or FBI. That does not rule out an “indirect” approach which can be just as effective, but allow the outfits deniability.

In another classified report obtained by the Post, the arrangement is described as allowing “collection managers to send content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations,” rather than directly to company servers.

NSA regarded the identities of its private partners as PRISM’s most sensitive secret, fearing that the companies would withdraw from the programme if they were exposed.

“98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft; we need to make sure we don’t harm these sources,” an NSA report leaked to the Post said.