Page and Zuckerberg say NSA surveillance program is news to them

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The major tech companies are denying involvement in the National Security Agency’s Prism surveillance program, but Google CEO Larry Page and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took their denials a step further. Page and Zuckerberg both issued personal statements on their Google and Facebook accounts, respectively, disavowing all knowledge of Prism.

Zuckerberg called reports about Prism “outrageous,” though Facebook was specifically included in leaked NSA slides about tech partners in the Prism program. According to the leaked documents, Facebook joined up with the NSA on June 6, 2009. But Zuckerberg in a Friday post said Facebook “is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers.

“We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn’t even heard of Prism before yesterday.”

Google CEO Page used similar language in his own blog post, claiming that “[Google] had not heard of a program called Prism until yesterday.” In fact, Zuckerberg and Page’s denials shared a similar structure: denial of Prism, followed by a paragraph explaining how their companies deal with government requests for information, and a conclusion about government transparency.

Larry PageMartyn Williams
Larry Page during remarks at the Google I/O developers conference in May.

Personal denials follow news storm

The personal (and vehement) denials from Zuckerberg and Page follow a day after The Guardian published details about the NSA’s top-secret efforts to collect phone records, emails, Skype calls, and Google searches. Google, Facebook, Apple, and others released general denials, but Zuckerberg and Page issued more personal statements Friday afternoon as news reports about Prism continued to swirl.

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“Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period,” Page wrote. “Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received—an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users’ call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.”

Page and Zuckerberg both claim their companies only hand over information to governments when required by law. Both said this week’s surveillance leaks indicate that the federal government needs to be more transparent about what information it is legally allowed to ask for, and that companies need to be more transparent about the information they are legally required to provide.

The Obama administration on Thursday confirmed the existence of both Prism and the NSA’s collection of phone call metadata. President Obama in a Friday morning press conference said the NSA’s surveillance efforts don’t apply to U.S. citizens and that the programs have been sanctioned by Congress.

This story, "Page and Zuckerberg say NSA surveillance program is news to them" was originally published by TechHive.

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