Storm Over PRISM Leaks Widens
The saga of one of the most significant leaks of government information in recent US history has taken a new twist with the decision by the whistleblower – former CIA technical staffer Edward Snowden – to go public.
In an interview carried out in Hong Kong with the UK newspaper The Guardian, Snowden said that after leaving the CIA he had done contract work for the National Security Agency on behalf of his current employer, Booz Allen Hamilton.
“I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in,” Snowden told The Guardian. “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
He said he had sacrificed “a very comfortable life” in Hawaii because “I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
Last week The Guardian and The Washington Post published documents provided by Snowden which showed that the US government, through a program known as PRISM, was spying on internet traffic around the world by accessing the servers of nine major US companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said in a press release that the leaked information was “highly classified” and the matter had been referred to the Department of Justice.
“The intelligence community is currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures,” Turner said. “Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law.”
Clapper himself denounced the leaks as “reckless”.
“Media outlets have not given the full context, including the extent to which these programs are overseen by all three branches of government... The surveillance activities published in The Guardian and The Washington Post are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress. Their purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber attacks against the United States and its allies,” Clapper said.
Booz Allen Hamilton issued a statement saying it would work closely with the authorities in their investigation of the leaks by Snowden. “News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm,” it said.
Some of the companies named in the reports about data collection from their servers said they knew nothing about PRISM.
Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the government did not have access to Google servers. “Not directly, or via a back door, or a so-called drop box. Nor have we received blanket orders of the kind being discussed in the media. It is quite wrong to insinuate otherwise.”
Drummond said Google provided user data to governments “only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. And we have taken the lead in being as transparent as possible about government requests for user information.”
Microsoft issued a statement saying it provided customer data “only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, in a post on the website, said 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… And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn’t even heard of PRISM before yesterday (Thursday last week).”
He said the site would “continue fighting aggressively” to keep information safe and secure. “We strongly encourage all governments to be much more transparent about all programs aimed at keeping the public safe. It’s the only way to protect everyone’s civil liberties and create the safe and free society we all want over the long term.”