The latest bold claims made in the US National Security Agency’s leaked PowerPoint presentation on its PRISM internet surveillance program suggest that the agency is able to monitor communications in realtime, despite earlier avid denials by tech companies.
The government may also be accessing much information without tech companies’ explicit knowledge, but a pair of even newer reports in Bloomberg and Reuters indicate that many big tech companies actually knowingly cooperate much more extensively with US intelligence agencies than previously acknowledged.
Tech firms including Microsoft are said to voluntarily give advanced warning to the US government of vulnerabilities in software products sold to governments overseas before they are patched, allowing US agencies to effectively use them to conduct foreign surveillance. Microsoft’s corporate vice president of corporate communications Frank X. Shaw confirmed to Bloomberg that the company tips-off multiple government agencies to vulnerabilities, but said this was designed for risk assessment and management.
Another company that Bloomberg highlights is McAfee, a subsidiary of Intel, which is said to be in regular cooperation with the NSA as well as the FBI and CIA. The firm reportedly provides government intelligence agencies with insights gained from its monitoring of global internet traffic, which includes cyber espionage by “foreign powers.” But this type of activity is in many way business as usual for Silicon Valley, as Reuters points out, diving deep into the history of the US tech industry to note that many early tech giants got their start working on military or intelligence projects. The Reuters report notes that in order to maintain the integrity of tech companies with international customers, the government typically works through a thriving industry of third-party firms that offer services capable of compromising “virtually every major software vendor.” Altogether, the new reports a reminder that although the US government and tech companies often clash when it comes to business regulations, on national security matters, they are often more in sync than they let on.