Report: NSA Does Not Actually Have ‘Direct Access’ to Google, Facebook (Updated)

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Initial reports that a secret government program to collect Internet data can tap directly into tech company servers were overblown and incorrect, according to tech site CNET.

Highly-cited reports in The Washington Post and Britain’s The Guardian that said the National Security Agency has direct access to the servers of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Skype and others “appear to be based on a misreading of a leaked Powerpoint document,” CNET reported, citing a “former government official who is intimately familiar” with the process.

“It’s not as described in the histrionics in the Washington Post or the Guardian,” the former official said. “None of it’s true. It’s a very formalized legal process that companies are obliged to do.”

Instead, the process for obtaining information is said to be similar to how regular criminal investigations work, when law enforcement must request it from a judge:

[T]he government delivers an order to obtain account details about someone who’s specifically identified as a non-U.S. individual, with a specific finding that they’re involved in an activity related to international terrorism. Both the contents of communications and metadata, such as information about who’s talking to whom, can be requested.

The Washington Post has backtracked from its initial report on PRISM. At first, the paper claimed the Silicon Valley firms “participate knowingly in PRISM operations.” But then — without explanation — the newspaper quietly removed that language last night. It also abandoned its original claim to have confirmed that the NSA is “tapping directly into the central servers” of the companies.

In a separate article published [Friday], the New York Times cited anonymous sources that cast additional doubt on the initial reports. Each of the tech companies, the Times said, “drew a bright line between giving the government wholesale access to its servers to collect user data and giving them specific data in response to individual court orders.”

Read CNET’s full report here.

Update: The Guardian on Saturday published an additional NSA slide about how PRISM is said to work. The slide specifically states, “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

Image source: The Guardian

(HT: Red Alert Politics)



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