The revelations about the U.S. government’s cyber-spying program this week centered on reports that the NSA and the FBI are routinely accessing data from major tech companies to feed intelligence operations, leveraging the fact that much of the world’s online traffic flows through domestic servers.
The reports by the Washington Post and the Guardian implicated companies including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and others involved in various forms of Internet communication, most of whom have issued vehement denials.
But what about e-commerce and web services giant Amazon.com? The company wasn’t listed among the participants in the classified program, and hasn’t been mentioned in any of the reports, even though its data about online purchasing would be a rich vein for intelligence gathering. Not to mention the large number of third-party online services that run through the company’s Amazon Web Services data centers.
“We have not participated,” an Amazon spokeswoman tells GeekWire, without providing further details.
It’s possible that the government hasn’t approached Amazon. The company is somewhat outside the mold of the other tech giants cited in the reports. But given the Libertarian leanings of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, it’s also possible that the government agencies would have been rebuffed by the company if they ever did make the inquiry.
Addressing the controversy over the previously secret “PRISM” initiative, President Obama yesterday said the program focuses on foreign communications passing through U.S. service providers, and doesn’t target U.S. citizens or people who live in the country. The program is subject to Congressional and judicial oversight, he said, noting that it has been repeatedly approved by members of both parties in Congress.
The Washington Post, citing a classified NSA slide deck, reported on Thursday that the government is “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”
In an update to that story, however, the newspaper added, “It is possible that the conflict between the PRISM slides and the company spokesmen is the result of imprecision on the part of the NSA author. In another classified report obtained by The Post, the arrangement is described as allowing “collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations,” rather than directly to company servers.”
The New York Times has more on this topic, saying the government agencies wanted the tech companies to create secure online portals where they could make data available. “Through these online rooms, the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it, people briefed on the discussions said.”