PRISM has become a shining example of encroaching government surveillance on western civilization and understandably, people are mad about it. However, a Google spokesperson has refuted claims that government agencies have direct access to its servers – it simply delivers the data by hand or FTP.
This isn’t necessary Google’s fault, as really if the government comes knocking and demands data in a way that it is legally allowed to do, there’s not a lot Google can do. When required to comply with these requests, we deliver that information to the US government — generally through secure FTP transfers and in person,” Google spokesman Chris Gaither said while speaking with Wired. “The US government does not have the ability to pull that data directly from our servers or network.”
This is a response that’s been echoed by a lot of the tech firms embroiled in the PRISM scandal, all of them suggesting that the NSA does not have direct access to their servers, but can and does request data from time to time.
Wired also asked the Google rep whether it had been asked by government agencies to implement just such a direct access facility. The response was that while it had been asked to do things in the past, it had declined. “We refuse to participate in any program — for national security or other reasons — that requires us to provide governments with access to our systems or to install their equipment on our networks,” he said.
He went on to say that each year, only a very small number of Google customers are looked into by the NSA and that cooperation with the organisation, was far less than the claims being made by major newspapers. As it stands however, Google is legally bound to not reveal anything beyond generalities of how the interaction between government agencies and the tech giant work. Google has petitioned the courts to attempt to change this, as it feels not being able to reveal this information could harm its business.
Facebook has also called for transparency in these matters, as it has received as much of the brunt of public displeasure as Google.
PRISM came to light last week, when documents were leaked by ex-security analyst, Edward Snowden, which revealed that tech companies around the world, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo and others, cooperated with American agencies like the CIA and NSA, to provide information on their users in the case of suspected terrorism. However, the details of the documents showed that there was only a need for the analyst requesting the data, to be “51 per cent sure” that a person being investigated was foreign, for the request to go ahead – thereby impinging on the rights of US citizens.
Kitguru Says: It’s good that we’re hearing more clarification on how PRISM works and more transparency in these organisations would be welcome. PRISM represents a grave threat to global freedoms, something major governments and particularly leaders like President Obama, seem to not be as interested in protecting as they are at warding off potentially terror plots.
Yes security is important, but there’s a happy medium to be had. Privacy is incredibly important. If we forget that in fear of being attacked by shadowy figures, we’ll regret it in the long run.