NSA Surveillance: What to Know So Far
Consumers haven't been able to look at Silicon Valley the same way ever since news broke of a long-running government program called PRISM. Of course, the nine Internet companies implicated in the leak aren't the only ones handing over customer data. Apparently thousands of companies do this, writes Inc. reporter Eric Markowitz.
However as news continues trickling out, Internet giants feel pressed to step forward and disclose the total number of legal orders they received for user data, including ones from the National Security Agency and from state, local, and federal police performing criminal investigations.
Here's what they've told us so far:
Yahoo is the latest company to disclose the number of government requests for data it has received over the past 18 months, reports TechCrunch. In a statement signed by CEO Marissa Mayer, the company said it received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests between December 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013.
“We’ve worked hard over the years to earn our users’ trust and we fight hard to preserve it,” Mayer and general counsel Ron Bell said. "Like all companies, Yahoo! cannot lawfully break out FISA request numbers at this time because those numbers are classified; however, we strongly urge the federal government to reconsider its stance on this issue."
Apple recently spoke up about PRISM, per its Commitment to Customer Privacy:
"From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide."
The company also made it clear it wasn't mining data for fun:
"Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place. There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it."
Microsoft came forward Friday after receiving the go-ahead from the government. According to John Frank, vice president and deputy general counsel, the search company received between 6,000 and 7,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts in the last half of 2012. In a blog post, he writes:
"We appreciate the effort by U.S. government today to allow us to report more information. We understand they have to weigh carefully the impacts on national security of allowing more disclosures. With more time, we hope they will take further steps. Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it’s a great place to start."
In a statement provided to CNET, Google said it wants to be even more transparent. As it is, Google releases statistics about government surveillance in its transparency report, including information on NSA letters sent by the FBI.
Last Wednesday, Google revealed it uses secure FTP servers and in-person delivery when complying with NSA requests. Over the course of 2012, the search giant received between zero and 999 National Security Letters--foreign intelligence-related requests from the FBI involving U.S. citizens separate from its investigations into criminal, civil, or administrative matters.
On June 11, Google wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI asking for details on national security requests and their scope.
"When required to comply with these requests, we deliver that information to the U.S. government-- generally through secure FTP transfers and in person," spokesperson Chris Gaither told USA Today. "The U.S. government does not have the ability to pull that data directly from our servers or network."
Facebook also announced on Friday it had been given permission to disclose its number of data requests. Facebook received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests pertaining to 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.
“The government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range,” Facebook said. “This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds.”
Twitter was one of several companies approached by the NSA to participate in a "dropbox" system, whereby legally requested data could be copied from their own server to one owned by the NSA, The Guardian reports. However, the start-up flatly denied the request and has since joined the rally for support to publish more details about the number of U.S. law enforcement requests.
Alex Macgillivray, the company's chief lawyer, tweeted:
JULIE STRICKLAND | Staff Writer
Julie Strickland covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City.