Dear Commons Community,
In the wake of the growing outrage that the National Security Agency is engaged in a wide-ranging surveillance program of Internet users through a system called Prism, the world’s biggest technology companies responded by unilaterally denying any involvement in the government’s spying apparatus.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, declared: “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers,” adding that, “We hadn’t even heard of Prism before yesterday.”
Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive, went slightly further. “The U.S. government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers,” he said. Apple, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo followed with denials as well.
And yet President Obama and the United States director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., have publicly confirmed the existence of the Prism system, without providing any details about it.
Who is telling the truth here? As reported in Dealbook:
“They are in a very difficult position,” said Thomas A. Sporkin, a former S.E.C. enforcement official and now a partner at Buckley Sandler. “On one hand they want to project an image of protecting your privacy. On the other, they have statutory obligations to keep government programs confidential” or potentially risk criminal charges if they exposed a secret government program.
Companies could also face a problem if their disclosures were misleading to investors, but only if they materially affected the stock price or had some other adverse effect, lawyers said.
These companies did not just say “no comment.” They flat-out denied involvement. Mr. Sporkin said, “They are probably not being completely forthcoming, but they are probably not lying.” He noted that the statements were highly vetted by legal teams…
So while the nation’s biggest technology companies may not be a part of systematic large-scale spying program, it is clear that they are legally required to play a significant role in funneling data to the government. That leaves them on a tightrope balancing what they can say to their customers and investors while complying with their obligations to keep the government’s secrets.”
It is inconceivable that the NSA could have carried out its massive spying operation without the cooperation of these companies. There will be more to this story.