Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks the National Security Agency “blew it” when it came to balancing Americans’ individual rights with the need to keep the United States secure.
“It’s our government’s job to protect all of us, our freedom and the economy,” he told the audience at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. “They did a bad job at balancing this.” Zuckerberg is also peeved about the U.S. government’s refusal to let Facebook reveal more about the user-data requests it receives from federal law-enforcement agencies.
Facebook has good reason to make its anger with the NSA a very public issue. Over the summer, top-secret documents leaked by government whistleblower Edward Snowden to The Guardian suggested that the NSA had a project, codenamed PRISM, which tapped into the internal databases of Facebook and eight other major technology companies. At the time, Facebook forcefully denied any such involvement in the project. “We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to Slashdot. “When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”
If users suspect that Facebook is voluntarily feeding information to the NSA and other agencies, it could drive them from the social network, which would greatly impact Facebook’s advertising revenues, which would put the whole company at risk. In light of that, it’s logical for Zuckerberg (as well as executives at other tech companies such as Google) to push back hard against scuttlebutt that he handed the keys to his kingdom over to the Feds. Snowden’s allegations haven’t sparked a massive exodus from the social network, but Zuckerberg must assume that keeping the volume up on his own denials can’t hurt.
Facebook recently issued its first-ever “Transparency Report,” which details government requests for its users’ data in the first six months of 2013. According to that document, the United States made between 11,000 and 12,000 requests for user data, on about 20,000 and 21,000 users, and received some portion of that data 79 percent of the time. “We continue to push the United States government to allow more transparency regarding these requests, including specific numbers and types of national security-related requests,” Facebook noted in the report’s FAQ. The U.S. government requires all tech companies—not just Facebook—to report only a range of requests, rather than a specific number.