NSA Lawyer: Tech Titans Knew Of Surveillance Data Collection

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

NSA brief contradicts tech giants’ vociferous claims they knew nothing about surveillance

One of the National Security Agency’s top lawyers insisted yesterday that, for all their denials, tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo were fully  aware of the NSA’s mass data collection before it was revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks – and collaborated willingly.

When asked if the companies knew about the initiatives and assisted in handing over the data, Rajesh De, the NSA general counsel, offered a concrete “yes”, according to the Guardian.

america security - Shutterstock - © Bruce RolffCompanies including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo have all denied knowledge of the PRISM project, but De said “collection under this programme was a compulsory legal process, that any recipient company would receive”.

De noted that the PRISM name was used internally used by NSA. That could indicate tech firms were simply unaware of the nomenclature used by agents.

IT giants in denial over NSA collaboration?

He claimed the same processes were in place for operations that saw data taken over Internet connections, known as upstream collection. Google and Yahoo expressed dismay when it emerged from the Edward Snowden leaks that snoops had tapped data links used by the organisations.

Tech firms have been on a big PR push to clear their names over any government collusion. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last week he had called President Obama directly to warn over the damage done by the NSA.

Many wrote to the president too, calling for swift action in curtailing NSA data collection, though they also asked for more power to scoop up people’s information.

But De’s claims appeared to contradict the vociferous backlash from the tech companies, who continue to protest their innocence.

IBM was the latest industry giant to distance itself from the NSA, telling customers it had “not provided client data to the NSA or any other government agency under any surveillance program involving the bulk collection of content or metadata”.

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