U.S. technology providers from Apple Inc. (AAPL) to Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) said they don't give the U.S. government direct access to their systems, responding to newspaper reports of a top-secret electronic surveillance program.
The National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation access the central servers of nine U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs, the Washington Post and the U.K.-based Guardian reported late yesterday, citing documents they obtained.
Code-named PRISM, the program traces its roots to warrantless domestic surveillance efforts under former President George W. Bush. The nine technology companies, which include Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Google Inc (GOOG)., Facebook Inc. (FB) as well as Apple and Yahoo, "knowingly participate in PRISM operations," the Post report said, citing a slide presentation dated April 2013.
"We have never heard of PRISM," said Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple. "We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."
The news emerged a day after the Guardian reported that the NSA was culling millions of telephone records from Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) under a clandestine court order. The disclosure of Verizon data collection stirred protests from privacy-rights advocates and renewed questions about the regard President Barack Obama's administration has for civil liberties.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the Internet surveillance efforts described by the Post as an abuse of government power and called on U.S. lawmakers to investigate.
"Unchecked government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in an e-mailed statement. "These revelations are a reminder that Congress has given the executive branch far too much power to invade individual privacy."
Obama, fundraising for Democrats in California's Silicon Valley last night, didn't mention the surveillance reports. Speaking to 30 donors dining at the Portola Valley estate of Sun Microsystems Inc. co-founder Vinod Khosla, the president spoke about the recovering economy and his second-term domestic goals that are priorities for the technology industry, including revising immigration laws and the country's patent system. He earlier attended a larger reception at the Palo Alto home of technology entrepreneur Mike McCue.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper defended the program as crucial and said procedures ensure only foreign nationals outside the U.S. are targeted.Next Page >
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