back to article Tech giants KNEW about PRISM, web snooping, claims top NSA lawyer

The NSA's general counsel Rajesh De says technology firms were fully aware of both America's web surveillance program PRISM and the mass monitoring of upstream internet traffic. On Wednesday, De told a meeting in Washington, organized by the US government's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), that data …


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  1. Eguro

    For once

    I might be inclined to give the corporations a bit of a pass.

    Who knows what they're allowed to say and when and to whom!?

    1. Mephistro

      Re: For once

      I would agree with you if lobbying didn't exist. These company have the power and the money to put a lot of pressure on the politicos to change the laws so mass snooping stops being legal.

      And I think the reason they didn't go that way is that they were offered a big, juicy carrot in the form of government contracts and information on foreign competitors. Either that or those companies' management can't see further than their noses.

      Now they're probably have to pay for the carrot, by losing most of their foreign customers. Payback is a bitch, as they say.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For once

      I might be inclined to give the corporations a bit of a pass.

      I would not. If they had simply kept their mouth shut they would have been able to rely on the law that says they couldn't tell anyone as a reason why they kept quiet, but they chose to go public with rebuttals and so wilfully made what appears to be misleading statements. For that they don't deserve a pass, they deserve contempt.

  2. Old Handle

    PRISM, being the subject of one of the first leaks, caught on as a generic term for these surveillance programs. It may well be true that PRISM, as the term was originally used by the NSA was only a system to facilitate companies knowingly handing specific documents. It's also at least plausible that the companies involved didn't know it by the same name.

    None of this changes the fact that other programs did involve indiscriminate bulk collection of private communications. Even the government doesn't deny this anymore. For instance when a recent leak revealed they had been recording every phone call in an entire country, the feds asked that the country not be named, essentially confirming it.

  3. McHack

    Got class-action lawsuit?

    The companies are expressly legally forbidden from confirming they participated, so they are not confirming they participated.

    Customers, investors, and shareholders want the companies to deny involvement, so they are denying involvement, as far as they can without outright lying to customers, investors, and shareholders.

    The legal argument is clear. As customers would likely object to being snooped on, they could go elsewhere if involvement was confirmed, damaging the company.

    So as the companies are forbidden from confirming involvement, the companies are forbidden from exercising their legal obligations to reveal damaging information to investors and shareholders.

    Since the government is prohibiting the disclosure of relevant information to potential and current investors and shareholders, the government is forcing the companies to act illegally, which (IANAL) I presume is illegal.

    No government should have the authority to force someone to break the law.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: This is the first thing....

      Silly person! Of course this sounds very reasonable and certainly rings true(ish), but all isn't as it seems. The NSA was shopping for PR people for the last 6-7 months, looking for a firm to deal with 'perception management' as well as in-house staff to train and prep public facing senior staff for encounters with the public.

      Obviously, they've found what they were looking for. The easiest way to tell is because their story doesn't sound completely retarded. Nearly every quote the NSA put out last year was so full of shit it was hard to read without gagging. The fact they let the lawyer do the talking is another indicator other factors are at play. It doesn't matter if it's an enormous Globocorp, or State surveillance agency, you only put the lawyer in front of the public if you want to absolutely guarantee they won't accidentally let something else slip when defending their statement. CEO's and such are good, but nobody beats lawyers at that game. Plus, they can crawl back inside their holes and defend the gates with endless legal tools.

      I'm not saying they're lying, just that the message is carefully crafted to be defensible and we'll likely never know the whole truth.

  5. boba1l0s2k9

    "would be quite burdensome."

    That's the fucking point, it's supposed to be! Arsehole...

    1. boba1l0s2k9

      Re: "would be quite burdensome."

      On second thought, if due process is hard then I suppose there's no good reason to force the issue. Spy away!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google, Facebook and others reacted furiously

    ok folks, we've gotta do something, before the shit hits the stock. We gotta react, and we gotta react furiously. John, this is a job for your department...

  7. David Roberts Silver badge


    Am I the only one wondering what Snowden is finding to do to occupy his time, all alone with a load of source data and a copy of Powerpoint?

    Unless all the data is in escrow from day 1 he could presumably keep on rolling out slideware for years.

    1. An0n C0w4rd

      Re: Powerpoint

      Various newspapers have been given full copies of his archives already. Which is why the British Government went to The Guardian and oversaw destruction of one or more hard drives that allegedly contained a copy of the documents.

  8. batfastad

    Yes. Er no

    Yes Mr NSA, they were fully aware. They were also fully aware of the court order you gave them from your secret military court telling them to keep it buttoned or else.

    "If you have to go back to court every time you look at the information in your custody, you can imagine that would be quite burdensome". Yes Mr NSA, that's literally the entire point of judicial oversight.

    1. NoneSuch

      Re: Yes. Er no

      Well stated batfastad. I was going to type the same thing.

      The NSA tends to tell half truths and avoids the inconvenient parts.

  9. Pierson


    ISTR a series of odd and unexplaned sudden outages on various large Internet companies at around the time Snowden leaked PRISM etc - Google, Apple, Microsoft and others all dropped off of the Internet for hours or days at a time, one after another.

    No credible explanations were given by the companies, and speculation was rife that they and/or the NSA were hastily removing black boxes and mirrored ports before their complicity was exposed.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    Of course the term was unknow, they knew it by the acronym MSIRP...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "If you have to go back to court every time you look at the information in your custody"

    The information shouldn't be "in your custody" in the first place!


  12. Dan Paul


    The NSA (and ALL the other alphabet agencies) was NEVER granted any powers to collect this infor without a warrant.

    They did it anyway.

    That is patently illegal.

    They should all pay for it because they knew EVERYONE broke the law.

    There is no law greater or that means more than the Constitution, in the USA.

    Those who ignore it are nothing more than thieves, liars and politicians and they all deserve to be politically defrocked and deported

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge


      Much as I might agree with your sentiments, if it were so patently illegal, so clearly unconstitutional, then it should be a doddle to have it addressed. I shouldn't think the court case would last much more than half a day and the cheapest lawyer you could find would probably suffice. I imagine there would be many queueing up to have Obama and/or NSA banged to rights for free and plenty who would pay to get that if needed.

      So why has that not happened? I suspect it's a lot more nuanced than you wish it were.

      1. Roo

        Re: This is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

        "So why has that not happened?"

        It's quite simple: A Government won't tolerate any domestic threat to their power. An outfit like the NSA provide a number of services that help the Government combat domestic threats and maintain a strong power base, so from the Government's point of view there is a strong incentive NOT to punish the NSA's transgressions.

        As for suspected nuances, the folks wielding the power and owning the country appear to be content to allow the current scenario to continue.

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: This is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

          There is a crucial, yet often ignored, element in US politics and corporate business. Summed up, you can do anything you want, as long it isn't expressly forbidden. It's those last two words that make our systems so great, and so fucked up at the same time and the entirety of Freedom in this country is based on that concept.

          So you go out, do what you want, and if anyone complains loudly enough you send your lawyers, they send theirs, and each side attempts to explain how your action were, or were not, expressly forbidden. The arguments get extremely obtuse and abstract, but the end result is that the court decides if your sort of thing was ok or not. Until that final ruling is made you can continue to do your thing. It's all rather odd.

  13. AbeSapian

    I'm shocked, SHOCKED to find that gambling is going on in here!

    Here's your winnings, sir.

  14. Cynicalmark

    Squirm baby squirm

    Never has an Agency royally buggered up as publicly nay, globally. For the NSA to claim its activities are legal just shows how out of control the US administration is. What a shame as America paints itself to be so squeaky clean - no, we all knew how bent the system was - we just chose to ignore it. I have nothing to hide and will never have anything to hide from any government so I have nothing to fear so think logically here.....are those who protest too much simply those with something to hide???

    I love to read about all those who bleat on about privacy yet insist on sitting in Costa or Starbucks on free wifi broadcasting all their data for us to see....stop complaining and get your own house in order before moaning about government snooping.

    I expect these idiots are also the same people who dont lock their bicycle up when going into a shop, or those who leave their car keys in the ignition when popping in for a newspaper.....fgs examine your own lives and secure it fully and encrypt it from the real enemy - data theives and identity theives...the gvt doesnt want your identity but some scumbag in a far away country or sat 2 chairs away in Starbucks does....perspective is wonderful when you have it...over to the trolls now :)

    1. Mephistro

      Re: Squirm baby squirm

      "I expect these idiots are also the same people who dont lock their bicycle up"

      I think they are more like the people that buy a new car and immediately have it stolen by a gang that has hacked into the car maker's systems and planted vulnerabilities and exploits in the car's software. And that gang is backed by a government.

      A small percent of customers may know about the issues, and even be able to prevent them. The rest of them are sitting ducks, sold downriver by their leaders.

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