State and business get aggressive in privacy battle
Companies are aware they will lose customers if data is steered into the NSA’s maw
Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith: “We believe the US constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the government is stopping us. Photograph: Reuters/Yves Herman
Anyone who thinks there isn’t a market for privacy needs only to look at the festering tensions evident between companies named in Edward Snowden’s leaks about the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programmes and the US government.
Several of the technology and internet companies named as being involved in Prism – a programme or system (it is not quite clear exactly what) for collecting and sifting through data obtained from the firms – issued initial statements denying they were involved in any way that went beyond legally mandated requests.
Many placed formal requests to the US government to be allowed to reveal more information about the types of requests they receive, how the companies comply with them and the nature of the information.
But as more time passes, and as US government lawyers have refused the companies this permission, the companies are becoming far more aggressive.
Yahoo this week won court permission to disclose details from a key 2008 court case it says will show it has been in a battle with the NSA over Prism for some time – although the court will retain the right to redact documents as it sees fit. The 2008 case was reportedly central to the establishment of Prism.
In a statement, Yahoo said the released court documents would “contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy”.
The fact that this permission has been granted is seen as a win for other companies that may wish to go to the same court – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that oversees NSA surveillance programmes – for the release of further documents.
He said the company had brought a plea directly to US attorney general Eric Holder for Microsoft and other companies to be allowed to reveal more about the NSA data requests it receives.
“We believe the US constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the government is stopping us . . . We hope the attorney general can step in to change this situation,” he wrote.
Snowden revealed documents that indicated a significant level of co-operation between Microsoft and the NSA, a story published in the Guardian claimed last week.
Smith stated there were “significant inaccuracies in the interpretations of leaked government documents reported in the media last week”. The main concern is claims that Microsoft provided “direct access” to data for the NSA (a claim not made in the Guardian story).