Wednesday05 October 2022

When Transparent Becomes More Opaque…

Reading time is around minutes.

After the massive leak about the NSA’s PRISM project many people are understandably upset and members of congress have been pulled into closed door meetings to be briefed on the details of what the program is doing. At the same time the companies named in the leaked slides are rushing to perform damage control and protect their businesses from losing customers. So far most of these have come as flat-out denials of any complicity or knowledge of project PRISM. Sadly, even if they were involved most National Security Letters or data requests also come with a gag order preventing them from giving any details or even acknowledging the event. This makes the claims from Microsoft, Google and others seem a tad hollow in the face of what is going on.

To combat this Microsoft, Google and other companies alleged to have knowingly and willing shared user data with the NSA are asking to release information about NSLs and other data requests they are served with. On the surface this would appear to be a way to show the public they are telling the truth about not having an open door policy with the NSA. The problem with the request is that it really only covers the number of requests under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and while they do make mention of the scope of these requests that is also a little misleading. Unless Google and others can show the number of people affected by each and every order or the data revealed in them there is no way to prove they are, or are not complicit in the PRISM program. You can see this reflected in the Verizon order; it is listed as a single request, yet it affects ALL Verizon business customers.

One could argue that simply be making a public statement requesting this that it shows that Microsoft, Facebook and others are being honest about not cooperating with the NSA. This is a fairly bankrupt argument as the more compelling one is that these companies know they will never be allowed to disclose even a limited scope of the orders they receive, this means that they can make all of the overtures they want without being afraid that they might actually have to show the data.

It is unlikely that the NSA and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) would allow this level of disclosure. They would most likely argue that this would impact all surveillance efforts giving a pattern of their activities to criminal and terrorists At best we could see them allowing Google and others to disclose the number they receive (as that is already reported elsewhere) and nothing more. This means that Google could show only one per year and that single order could cover ever Google user on the planet. Sadly this puts all of these companies in a bad place, they cannot show any documentation to disprove the existing claims and without that proof they are going to look very bad to an increasingly untrusting public.

In the meantime many of the listed companies are pushing for more laws like the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection act which would made much of what is happening all the more legal (and allowed your data to be traded between companies like a commodity). Still despite all of the privacy concerns, anti-consumer bills that they have supported and many other things they ask us, the consumer, to trust them. It would be funny if the situation was not so deeply disturbing.

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Last modified on Thursday, 13 June 2013 16:46

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