CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
When government officials came to Silicon Valley to demand easier ways for the worlds largest Internet companies to turn over user data as part of a secret surveillance programme,the companies bristled. In the end,though,many cooperated at least a bit.
Twitter declined to make it easier for the government. But other companies were more compliant,according to people briefed on the negotiations. They opened discussions with national security officials about developing technical methods to more efficiently and securely share personal data of foreign users in response to lawful government requests. And in some cases,they changed their computer systems to do so.
The negotiations shed a light on how Internet companies,increasingly at the centre of peoples personal lives,interact with spy agencies that look to vast trove of information e-mails,videos,online chats,photos and search queries for intelligence. They illustrate how intricately the government and tech companies work together,and the depth of their behind-the-scenes transactions.
The companies that negotiated include Google,which owns YouTube; Microsoft,which owns Hotmail and Skype; Yahoo; Facebook; AOL; Apple; and Paltalk,according to one of the people briefed on the discussions. The companies were legally required to share the data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In at least two cases,at Google and Facebook,one of the plans discussed was to build separate,secure portals,like a digital version of the secure physical rooms that have long existed for classified information,in some instances on company servers. Through these online rooms,the government would request data,companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it,people briefed on the discussions said.
Details on discussions help explain disparity between initial descriptions of government programme and company responses.
Each of the nine companies said it had no knowledge of a government programme providing officials with access to its servers,and drew a bright line between giving the government wholesale access to its servers to collect user data and giving them specific data in response to individual court orders. Each said it did not provide the government with full,indiscriminate access to its servers.
The US government does not have direct access or a back door to the information stored in our data centres, Google CEO Larry Page said. Statements from Microsoft,Yahoo,Facebook,Apple made the same distinction.
Controversies surrounding spy programmes & privacy
President Barack Obama is defending secret government programmes that sweep up Internet data and millions of Americans phone records in their search for foreign terrorists
1978: Congress passes Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It creates a secret court to monitor spying within the United States.
September 2001: The shock of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington pushes George Bushs administration to seek new powers to improve intelligence-gathering and prevent terrorism.
October 2001: Congress and Bush rush USA Patriot Act into law. It gives unprecedented authority to search,detain,eavesdrop in pursuit of suspected terrorists.
December 2005: New York Times reports the NSA is secretly eavesdropping on telephone calls and emails of Americans communicating with people outside the US,without FISA warrant.
March 2006: Congress votes to renew the Patriot Act.
August 2006: A federal judge in Detroit rules that the NSAs warrantless surveillance programme is unconstitutional.
January 2007: Bush administration announces it will begin seeking approval from FISA court when eavesdropping on calls.
August 2007: Congress nod for changes sought by Bush administration to FISA Act,officially allowing NSA eavesdropping.
May 2011: Congress passes and Obama signs a four-year extension of Patriot Act provisions.
Obama orders govt to draw up target list for cyber-attacks
LONDON: Barack Obama has ordered his senior national security and intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber-attacks,a top secret presidential directive obtained by the Guardian revealed on Friday. The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20,issued in October last year but never published,says the government will identify potential targets of national importance.