“Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”
This, and the other statements I’ve seen, bare careful parsing. If Google discloses data “in accordance with the law” then the whole question of whether there’s a government “back door” hangs on what you mean by “back door”. Google has so much data on me–they know when I am sleeping, they know I am awake–that they could deny the existence of a back door while still sending the NSA all of my Gmail, for example.
All the major tech firms whose names appear in the PRISM slides have issued denials or statements of ignorance, and I believe them. For example, the Apple spokesman who’s “never heard” of PRISM probably never has. I also believe that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Skype, AOL and DropBox turned over massive amounts of data to the NSA.
So it happened, (and I doubt many of us are surprised it happened), it was legal, it was legally secret, and most of the House and Senate are complicit in it, because they passed the laws in the first place and were extensively briefed. The justification is the same one we’ve heard for almost a dozen years:
“The collection is broad in scope,” Clapper wrote, “because more narrow collection would limit our ability to protect the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it may assist counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities.”
The question is how much longer the vague threat of terrorism is going to justify the actual loss of liberty. My guess is a very long time, because I’ll bet when the next round of polls come out, a majority will still be swayed by this reasoning.