Reuters - An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynsk
By Lawrence Hurley and Joseph Menn
WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. Internet companies that want to resist government demands to hand over customer data for intelligence investigations have few legal options, due to the classified nature of such probes and a court review process shrouded in secrecy.
Google Inc (GOOG.O), Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) are among the big U.S. technology companies that were outed this week as key sources of data for the National Security Agency (NSA), under a surveillance program referred to inside the spy agency as Prism.
While the companies have uniformly denied knowledge of Prism and said they had not given the NSA direct access to their servers, U.S. officials have confirmed the existence of the program, which President Barack Obama defended as "a modest encroachment" on privacy that was necessary to protect national security.
The program relies on section 702 of the 2008 amended version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which lets the government collect electronic communications for the purpose of acquiring intelligence on non-U.S. targets that pose a threat to national security.
For electronic service providers, the law says the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington can authorize a company to provide "all information, facilities, or assistance necessary." In return for compliance, the company is compensated for its work and receives immunity from potential lawsuits.
Section 702 is a "broad tool to get the information they are looking for," said Matt Zimmerman, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco civil liberties group critical of the law. ...more