Tech companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook on Thursday said they do not provide any government agency with access to their servers, responding to reports that they have granted such access under a classified data collection program.
The Washington Post newspaper reported that the U.S. National Security Agency and the FBI are "tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies" through a secret program known as PRISM, and extracting data including audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs.
"We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government?or any other government?direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a "back door" to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday," said Larry Page, Google CEO.
Page added that Google provides user data to governments only in accordance with the law. "Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users? Internet activity on such a scale is completely false," he said.
Microsoft said it provides customer data only when the company receives a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition the company said it complies with orders for requests about "specific accounts or identifiers."
Apple said that it has never heard of PRISM adding that the company does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers, at least without a court order.
Facebook also denied the newspaper's report, adding that it provides information "only to the extent required by law."
Yahoo also said it does not provide the government with direct access to its servers.
U.S. oficials confirmed the existence of PRISM, adding that it has been authorized under a foreign intelligence law that was recently renewed by Congress, and maintained that it minimizes the collection and retention of information "incidentally acquired" about Americans and permanent residents.
Waames Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that Washington Post's report contained "numerous inaccuracies."
The Post said that PRISM was established under Republican President George W. Bush in 2007, had seen "exponential growth" during the past several years under Democratic President Barack Obama.
"It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States," said James Clapper. "Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats."