12 November 2013, 02:48

Microsoft, Google and Facebook deny giving NSA access to their servers

Microsoft, Google and Facebook deny giving NSA access to their servers

Microsoft, Google and Facebook managers denied giving the NSA or any government in the world direct or unfettered access to their servers, at the ninth NSA inquiry hearing on the mass surveillance of EU citizens held at Parliament on Monday.

US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner told MEPs that abuses by the NSA were carried out outside congressional authority. "I hope that we have learned our lesson and that oversight will be a lot more vigorous," he said.

The involvement of commercial firms in the US mass surveillance activities took centre stage at Monday's hearing. Microsoft, Google and Facebook managers denied allegations in the media and stated that they did not provide any government in the world with access to customers' data in their servers.

At the hearing, MEPs heard testimony from Mr Sensenbrenner, Chairman of the US Congress Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, who, together with Senator Patrick Leahy, has introduced the "USA Freedom Act" intended to end the NSA's bulk collection of American citizens' communications records by amending the US Patriot Act.

The National Security Agency has secretly gained access into the data streams of Internet giants Google and Yahoo, The Washington Post reported recently.

Citing officials and documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the Post reported that the NSA had the ability to collect information from millions of Google and Yahoo users.

Google told the Post that it was troubled by the allegations and didn’t know the NSA was access its data in this way. Yahoo stated that it has never given the NSA access to its data.

NSA Director Ge. Keith Alexander, meanwhile, denied that the NSA broke into the data streams, POLITICO reports.

We cannot trust closedown software and hardware to protect our freedoms - expert

Estelle Winters

As concerns over the Internet security are at their highest, in an interview to Voice of Russia, Jeremie Zimmermann,founder and spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net, a citizen advocacy group defending fundamental freedoms online, talked about how tech companies handle personal data and how they cooperate with surveillance schemes.

How often and under which circumstances do Apple and other tech giants provide data on request?

“Well, it is impossible to tell, because this whole operation of the so-called transparency report is some kind of whitewashing operation to try to shift away attention from what really matters. Those requests by police forces mostly are quite benign in comparison to what was revealed by the revelations of Edward Snowden.

What we learned is that Apple is actually participating in total surveillance of citizens and their personal data. We learned this through the program PRISM. But we also learned from the program Bullrun that the NSA was engaged in the massive sabotage of commercial technologies used for protecting personal data, which means that Apple, as many other companies in the US, was forced to hand over its cryptographic keys to the NSA, was forced to introduce backdoors or voluntary bugs in its technologies to make it easier for the NSA and other US intelligence services to access users’ communications when they have the illusion that it is secure.

Also, Apple probably has, like any other US company, an obligation to shut up about all these orders that come from the national security letters whenever they are forced by the authorities to give out personal data. So, what we learned is that this transparency report cannot be meaningful.”

Tech companies – Microsoft, Google, Facebook – they’ve been striving for greater transparency in customer data sharing. Will the US Government give them more privileges in this respect?

“This is crisis management communication mostly, because their customers are losing trust in their products. They do this as a desperate attempt to try to reestablish this trust. But what we learned from Snowden’s revelations is that massive scale of surveillance is a tool, technological procedures being deployed to help the US authorities and hundreds of co-contractors to be able to access in bulk to all communications coming from those tools.

So, those individual requests about a stolen iPhone or a stolen iPad are just a way to shift attention away from the reality. The reality is that we cannot trust those companies anymore, because a whole bunch of US laws forces them into cooperating with mass surveillance and forces them in the way where they can never reveal the truth about it.

The sad truth is that we cannot trust those US companies anymore and that we cannot trust closedown software and hardware to protect our freedoms and our communications online. Only free library software that users can understand, that users can share, that users can modify – only free library software gives us the potentiality to be able to control the machine and, therefore, restore trust and gain control over our personal communications back. This is the major democratic issue.”

Voice of Russia, europarl.europa.eu, washingtonpost.com

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