posted Jun 15, 2013, 6:10 AM by Andreas Canthor
updated Oct 1, 2013, 10:59 AM by Thomas Kraus
|Prism, the US GESTAPO cyber snooping program makes waves! Facebook and Microsoft revealed details of data requests.
Facebook received 9,000-10,000 requests for user data from US government entities in the second half of 2012. The social-networking site said the requests, relating to between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts, covered issues from local crime to national security.
Microsoft meanwhile said it received 6,000 and 7,000 requests for data from between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts.
Internet companies - including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft - were reported last week to have granted the National Security Agency (NSA) "direct access" to their servers under a data collection program called Prism.
The firms denied the accusations, saying they gave no such access but did comply with lawful requests.
In an effort to reassure its users, Facebook lawyer Ted Ullyot wrote on the Facebook company's blog that following discussions with the relevant authorities it could for the first time report all US national security-related requests for data.
"As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range," he said.
For the six months ending 31 December 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received was between 9,000 and 10,000, relating to between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.
The disclosures about Prism, and related revelations about broad-based collection of telephone records, have triggered widespread concern and congressional hearings about the scope and extent of the information-gathering. The big Internet companies in particular have been torn by the need to obey U.S. laws that forbid virtually any discussion of foreign intelligence requests and the need to assuage customers.
Only one company, Yahoo, is known to have taken the highly unusual step of appealing an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The company argued in 2008 that the order violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. But U.S. District Judge Bruce Selya, who headed the FISA court's Court of Review, ruled the data collection program did not run afoul of the Bill of Rights.
Earlier this week, European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding vented her fury over the US data spying program known as Prism. The far-reaching online surveillance operation, which saw the US National Security Agency spying on users across the globe, clearly demonstrates "that a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury, but is a fundamental right," Reding said.
Just two days later, however, it would seem that Reding was perhaps protesting a bit too much. According to both the Financial Times and Reuters, the European Commission bowed to US lobbying in early 2012 and scrapped a data protection measure that would have significantly reduced the NSA's ability to spy on Europeans.
According to the Financial Times report, which cites EU documents and unnamed EU officials, the measure was specifically designed to ward off US efforts to eavesdrop on international phone calls and emails. It was even called the "anti-FISA clause," a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Washington, however, launched a significant lobbying effort to get the Commission to remove the clause -- which it then did, partly in order to smooth the way ahead of talks on the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. "We didn't want any complications on this front," an EU official told the Financial Times.
Makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies and many other companies also participate in the government programs.
In some cases, the information gathered may be used not just to defend the nation but to help infiltrate computers of its adversaries.
The center-left daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" writes:
"It may be that US citizens can defend themselves under the US Constitution. But that doesn't apply to foreigners. Facebook users in Germany have as little protection from the US Constitution as those in Afghanistan. Germany is the country in Europe whose telephone and Internet communications are being spied on the most intensely by the US. ... But even the best rulings from Germany's high court are useless because the majority of the Internet's architecture is located in the US. As a consequence, US authorities have the power of access, and this is stronger than basic German rights."
The conservative daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" writes:
"For years, German Internet providers have complained among themselves about the tough data protection laws to which they are subject in the European Union. At the same time, they looked enviously at their American counterparts, who are obviously subject to very flexible data protection rules. But these days could be over now. European providers should take advantage of their data protection requirements as a unique selling point."
Image Credits: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski