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NSA Attorney: Tech Companies Knew About Bulk Data Mining

Oversight committee hearing reveals more fingerpointing and obfuscation over who knew what

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Despite months of denial from leading tech companies that they were aware of the government's mining of user information, the National Security Agency's senior attorney testified Wednesday that information was obtained with the "full knowledge and assistance" of those firms.

Appearing before a hearing of Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, NSA general counsel Rajesh De responded to questions regarding the agency's bulk collection of information under the FISA Amendments Act (“FAA”), also known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

When asked if bulk collection occurrs with the “full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained,” De responded, “Yes.”

The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman responded on Twitter following this revelation:

Reporting on the hearing, Ackerman continues:

When the Guardian and the Washington Post broke the Prism story in June, thanks to documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, nearly all the companies listed as participating in the program – Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Paltalk, AOL – claimed they did not know about a surveillance practice described as giving NSA vast access to their customers’ data. Some, like Apple, said they had “never heard” the term Prism.

De explained: “Prism was an internal government term that as the result of leaks became the public term,” De said. “Collection under this program was a compulsory legal process, that any recipient company would receive.”

According to Ackerman, this ambiguity over the name of the bulk collection program, "PRISM," may have obfuscated the truth of the firms' full knowledge.

However, he points out that it remains "unclear" as to exactly what legal process the government serves to a company in order to "compel communications content and metadata access." Further, documents leaked from Snowden reveal that, regardless of authorization, the NSA "possesses unmediated access to the company data."


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