Some of the country’s biggest tech companies are responding to allegations of NSA surveillance in the best way they know how: by encrypting more of their data, and demanding that the federal government reveal more about its intelligence and law-enforcement activities.
“A lot of the things everybody knew they should do but just weren’t getting around to are now a much higher priority,” said Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist of Cryptography Research, told The New York Times.
Those “things” include Google and Twitter encrypting some core processes, such as search, as well as a variety of technology firms issuing Transparency Reports that list government requests for user data. Google executives, reportedly furious over reports that the NSA has figured out how to penetrate the company’s systems, are moving to encrypt internal data despite the expense and time required to do so. Facebook and Yahoo are also making their respective browsing platforms harder to crack.
Controversy over NSA surveillance began in June, when former government contractor Edward Snowden began feeding documents about the agency’s activities to The Guardian and other newspapers. In addition to PRISM, a program that siphons information from the databases of nine major technology companies, the NSA allegedly runs MUSCULAR, which taps the links connecting Google and Yahoo datacenters to the broader Web.
(Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported showing an NSA presentation slide detailing MUSCULAR surveillance to two engineers “with close ties to Google,” both of whom apparently “exploded in profanity” when they saw the extent of the agency’s setup. “I hope you publish this,” one of them reportedly said.)
If the reports about MUSCULAR are accurate, the NSA is tapping technology companies’ datacenters without the latter’s knowledge, making the Transparency Reports—which only list federal requests for data filed through the legal system—an inaccurate measure of government penetration. In light of that, it’s no wonder that technology companies are scrambling to lock down their systems against any and all threats; considering how much of their respective revenues depend on maintaining customer trust and privacy, their very businesses depend on it.