The recent revelation involving the mass data collection by the National Security Agency (NSA) is nothing special because it’s something people figured out almost six months ago.
At a Wednesday hearing with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board – the US government’s institutional privacy watchdog – senior NSA lawyer Rajesh De said tech giants including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others knew of the existence of the mass surveillance program PRISM. He added they just didn't know it was “called” that.
If accurate, De’s statement – at least some part of it – would contradict that the companies’ denial of their involvement with the NSA since June 2013.
"Prism was an internal government term that as the result of leaks became the public term," De said, according to The Guardian.
"Collection under this program was a compulsory legal process that any recipient company would receive."
The legal representative also explained how the information was taken directly from the internet corporations under Section 702 – according to which, data is obtained with the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court approval and with the knowledge of the provider based upon a written directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.
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De’s statement is no great revelation because Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer already revealed in September last year that tech companies indeed knew about the mass surveillance programs because they were bullied into compromising their users in the name of national security.
She claimed the corporations faced jail time if the NSA surveillance secrets were revealed.
“Releasing classified information is treason and you are incarcerated,” Mayer said.
Clearly Mr. Rajesh De forgot to address the threatening nature of the NSA’s requests to the tech companies.
Similarly, a month after Marissa Mayer’s statement, pro-privacy e-mail service provider ‘Lavabit’ disclosed the gag order by The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that required its Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) keys – something that protect all private user information.
Ladar Levison, the owner of the Texas-based company, also revealed that he was also threatened with jail time in case of non-compliance.
However, with that said, there remains one huge difference between Levison and other tech giants such as Mayer and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Lavabit was shut down by its founder after being pressurized by the intelligence agencies while others chose to trade user information.
The NSA might be the primary culprit here but the tech companies – as Mr. Rajesh De was kind enough to remind us – are as much as to be blamed for PRISM activities.
Related: Mozilla Refuses To Bow Down To NSA