from NYTimes Website
A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Google says it scrutinizes each government request
and notifies users if it is allowed.
When government officials came to Silicon Valley
to demand easier ways for the world’s largest Internet companies to turn
over user data as part of a secret surveillance program, the companies
bristled. In the end, though, many cooperated at least a bit.
They opened discussions with national security
officials about developing technical methods to more efficiently and
securely share the personal data of foreign users in response to lawful
government requests. And in some cases, they changed their computer systems
to do so.
They illustrate how intricately the
government and tech companies work together, and the depth of their
...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. People briefed on the
discussions spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited
by law from discussing the content of FISA requests or even acknowledging
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.
Though the official purpose of those meetings
was to discuss the future of the Internet, the conversations also touched on
how the companies would collaborate with the government in its
intelligence-gathering efforts, said a person who attended.
Each said it did not provide the government with
full, indiscriminate access to its servers.
And in some cases, the data is transmitted to the government electronically, using a company’s servers.
Statements from Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook,
Apple, AOL and Paltalk made the same distinction.
Instead, they said, it is a more secure and efficient way to hand over the data.
FISA orders can range from inquiries about specific people to a broad sweep for intelligence, like logs of certain search terms, lawyers who work with the orders said. There were 1,856 such requests last year, an increase of 6 percent from the year before.
In one recent instance, the National Security Agency (NSA) sent an agent to a tech company’s headquarters to monitor a suspect in a cyber-attack, a lawyer representing the company said. The agent installed government-developed software on the company’s server and remained at the site for several weeks to download data to an agency laptop.
In other instances, the lawyer said, the agency seeks real-time transmission of data, which companies send digitally.
Twitter spokesmen did not respond to questions about the government requests, but said in general of the company’s philosophy toward information requests:
Google, Microsoft and Twitter publish transparency reports detailing government requests for information, but these reports do not include FISA requests because they are not allowed to acknowledge them.
Yet since tech companies’ cooperation with the government was revealed Thursday, tech executives have been performing a familiar dance, expressing outrage at the extent of the government’s power to access personal data and calling for more transparency, while at the same time heaping praise upon the president as he visited Silicon Valley.
Even as the White House scrambled to defend its online surveillance, President Obama was mingling with donors at the Silicon Valley home of Mike McCue, Flipboard’s chief, eating dinner at the opulent home of Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist, and cracking jokes about Mr. Khosla’s big, shaggy dogs.
On Friday, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, posted on Facebook a call for more government transparency.