Many of the biggest technology firms in the U.S. are wrestling with the federal government's various surveillance programs.
Apple on Nov. 5 published its first in-depth report on government requests for user data. The company notes that the U.S. government asked for user data between 1,000-2,000 times from Jan. 1, 2013, to June 30, 2013. Like other tech companies, Apple is not permitted to release more detailed information.
"We believe that our customers have a right to understand how their personal information is handled, and we consider it our responsibility to provide them with the best privacy protections available… We believe that dialogue and advocacy are the most productive way to bring about a change in these policies, rather than filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government." Apple's Report on Government Information Requests
Several other tech companies have also released their own transparency reports detailing the general number of government requests for user information in 2013. Facebook received 11,000-12,000 requests; Google received 10,918 requests; Microsoft received 37,000 requests; Twitter received 1,319 requests; and Yahoo received 12,444 requests.
Google's most recent transparency report, released Nov. 14, noted that the growth in U.S. government requests for user data (from 7,969 requests in the second half of 2012 to 10,918 requests in the first half of 2013) is due in part to the growth of the number of users it has.
"Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the government's authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive." AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!
Leaks reported by the Washington Post on Oct. 30 reveal a previously unreported NSA project called MUSCULAR, a joint operation with England's GCHQ intelligence agency that taps fiberoptic cables connecting Yahoo and Google data centers around the world. Content and metadata is routed to a data center at Fort Meade in Maryland.
"I think they did a bad job balancing those things here. Frankly I think the government blew it — communicating the balance of what they were going for here with this." Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook
In a Nov. 4 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt heavily criticized the National Security Agency — specifically, its alleged collection of user data from Google and Yahoo data centers. Schmidt said such data collection is "outrageous."
Yahoo said Nov. 18 that it would encrypt all of the data that moves between its servers by the end of Q1 2014. Both Yahoo and Google have also taken steps to encryption to their various products in light of the ongoing NSA surveillance scandal.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 18 declined to hear a case brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) claiming that the FISA court "exceeded its statutory jurisdiction" in allowing the NSA to gather bulk phone records, a move EPIC says "cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation." EPIC bypassed lower courts in bringing the case.
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