The NSA’s PRISM program has created a rift between the U.S Government and the tech industry as the battle for privacy heats up.
After the NSA’s secret PRISM data mining program was revealed, tech giants immediately denied allowing server access to the government, with similar statements across the board.
On Friday, Google, one of the many high profile companies that were targeted as part of the PRISM program issued a full page blog post entitled “What the …?”
In a strong rebuke of the secret program, Google CEO Larry Page issued what can only be considered as a direct challenge to the program’s existence:
“First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.”
“….of course, we understand that the U.S. and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety—including sometimes by using surveillance. But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.”
To add to the pressure, Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook issued a similar rebuke with even stronger wording :
“Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. 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.” – Full Statement
The fallout is especially damaging for President Obama as he has been forced to admit the program exists while the debate about privacy and Government powers is likely to intensify. To make matters worse, Google and Facebook are traditionally Obama backers and are basically furious at this revelation. I can’t think of a worse stand-off, and there is surely a lack of trust amongst the top CEOs about how the White House has kept them in the dark since 2006. Surely it should have been better explained to them, even in private.
In addition, the tech industry now has to reassure millions of customers about the safety of their data on servers and prove that it is secure. How will Verizon customers feel about this revelation that their calls are being reviewed in secret?
People using Google to search, or uploading videos to Youtube and sharing pictures on Facebook will inevitably feel cheated by PRISM and what it means for their privacy.
At the end of the day we don’t know all the facts, and there is probably a strong reason for the PRISM program to exist but its certainly not helped America’s image of freedom and democracy nor the leading companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft that champion that message. Even though the NSA’s work is very important in protecting Americans how will people feel about the way their data is being used in intelligence gathering? Are these powers appropriate or should there be some kind of review, public disclosure about these types of programs in the near future?