Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and AOL have quickly moved to deny all knowledge of the PRISM surveillance programme, and express their distaste for such a monitoring system.
According to reports leaked last week, both the US and UK governments have been tapping into personal data held by nine technology firms including Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft for surveillance purposes.
However, the technology firms accused of enabling collection directly from their servers have denied they are part of the PRISM programme.
In a statement emailed to V3, Apple said: "We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."
A Yahoo spokesperson told V3, “Yahoo takes users' privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.”
On Saturday, Yahoo’s general counsel Ron Bell reiterated that the internet firm
does voluntarily disclose user information, unless in response to specific demands.
"When the government does request user data from Yahoo, we protect our users,” Bell noted. “We fight any requests that we deem unclear, improper, overbroad, or unlawful. We carefully scrutinise each request, respond only when required to do so, and provide the least amount of data possible consistent with the law.”
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has posted a message on the social network about “the outrageous press reports” about the surveillance project.
“Facebook is not and has never been part of any programme to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers,” he maintained. “We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn't even heard of PRISM before yesterday.”
Zuckerberg also used his response to call on governments to become more transparent over data-sharing and monitoring initiavites. “It's the only way to protect everyone's civil liberties and create the safe and free society we all want over the long term,” he added.
Google, which owns YouTube, expressed similar innocence to the PRISM allegations as Zuckerberg, posting a blog titled 'What the ...?' in response.
“First, we have not joined any program that would give the US government - or any other government - direct access to our servers. Indeed, the US government does not have direct access or a 'back door' to the information stored in our data centres,” Google chief executive Larry Page and legal head David Drummond noted. “We had not heard of a programme called PRISM until yesterday.”
Page and Drummond went on to explain that though the company does get requests for user data occasionally, it has never received the sort of sweeping, large-scale request said to have been made to US telco Verizon and would be shocked had the company been put in such a position.
Microsoft, which owns Skype, and AOL were also quick to squash rumours of their PRISM involvement, although with less outrage and in a much more concise fashion than Facebook and Google.
Microsoft’s statement reads: “We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”
AOL has posted its own similar statement: "We do not have any knowledge of the Prism programme. We do not disclose user information to government agencies without a court order, subpoena or formal legal process, nor do we provide any government agency with access to our servers."
Of the nine firms named as providing customer data to the NSA, PalTalk stood out as being relatively unknown. The online video chat room has also issued a statement: “We have not heard of PRISM. Paltalk exercises extreme care to protect and secure users’ data, only responding to court orders as required to by law. Paltalk does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers.”
While the technology firms in question were all quick to outline their lack of knowledge over PRISM, they are now coming under scrutiny for their use of the term ‘direct access to severs’ in their denials, with some privacy critics claiming this means they could be involved in some way with the PRISM scheme.
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