“Many Americans are outraged at the government for mining user data from Apple, Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants,” Christopher Flavelle writes for Bloomberg. “What about the actions of the companies themselves — have they met their ethical obligations to their customers and society as a whole? Do they even have any?”

The Washington Post reported that the National Security Agency collects data ‘directly from the servers’ of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple,” Flavelle writes. “While some companies issued carefully worded denials of involvement, it’s hard to imagine they were unaware of the arrangement, however they choose to describe it.”

“Assuming that the companies found the program an infringement on our liberties, could they have declined to provide the government the information it requested? Ultimately, probably not; it seems unlikely they would have met the requests had they not faced a legal obligation to comply,” Flavelle writes. “But legal and ethical obligations aren’t necessarily the same thing.”

Flavelle writes, “Take the recent case of Apple’s use of Irish subsidiaries with no tax residency to avoid U.S. taxes; the tactics may be legally sound, but ethically dubious. Now turn that around: If companies are willing to go to such lengths to get around U.S. tax law, is it too much to ask that they apply the same creativity to avoiding the surrender of their customers’ private information? In Apple’s case, that may have happened. Apple looks to have resisted the government’s requests for years. What does that say about other companies, which complied more quickly: Are they better corporate citizens, or worse? … maybe it’s time to revisit what it means for a company to be a good corporate citizen, and whether that includes acting as a check on the government when no one else can.”

Read more in the full article here.

Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland report for Reuters, “‘In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance,’ Obama said, noting that a secret federal court reviews requests for surveillance and that Congress is briefed on such activity.”

MacDailyNews Take: Collecting information on trillions of phone calls and internet communications, is “the right balance?”

Spetalnick and Holland report, “‘You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,’ Obama said. ‘We’re going to have to make some choices as a society… There are trade-offs involved.'”

MacDailyNews Take: You can’t have 100 percent security. Period. (See: 2013 Boston Marathon finish line.)

As for “trade-offs:”
They who would trade essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin (paraphrased)

Spetalnick and Holland report, “U.S. law enforcement and security officials said the government was likely to open a criminal investigation into the leaking of the highly classified documents on the programs to the Post and Guardian… Obama’s administration was already embroiled in other privacy controversies involving the searches of telephone records for Associated Press reporters and the phone records and emails of a Fox News reporter as part of leak investigations. Those controversies, along with a scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for extra tax scrutiny and questions about the handling of last year’s deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, have cast a cloud over Obama’s second term.”

“The relationship between the government’s surveillance program and the internet companies remained murky on Friday,” Spetalnick and Holland report. “Some of the companies named by the Post – Google, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook – denied that the government was able to tap directly into their central servers, as the newspaper reported… The statements from the technology companies seemed to suggest the government had gone to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain orders to force cooperation from some or all of the internet companies.”

The Washington Post said the surveillance program involving internet firms, code-named PRISM and established under Republican President George W. Bush in 2007, had seen ‘exponential growth’ under Obama, a Democrat. It said the NSA increasingly relied on PRISM as a source of raw material for daily intelligence reports to the president,” Spetalnick and Holland report. “Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, called the program ‘deeply disturbing’ and beyond what should be constitutionally acceptable. ‘It is a huge gathering of information by the federal government. The argument that it protects national security is unpersuasive,’ he said.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: PRISMOrwellian.

Via The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):

The Obama administration is defending this surveillance. A senior official in the Administration stated that these programs “comply with the Constitution” and “appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”

They’re wrong.

It’s time for a full accounting of America’s secret spying programs—and an end to unconstitutional surveillance.

When the government was caught spying on American citizens in the 1960s and 70s, Congress created the Church Committee to right the government’s wrongs. Recommendations from that commission resulted in legal reforms that ensured judicial oversight of surveillance programs. Congress must act in a similar fashion and create a 21st Century Church Committee and enact strong legislation to rein in the Executive Branch and protect our communications.

For far too long, secret law and a secret surveillance state have been a dark specter on Americans’ freedom. It’s time to shine a light on NSA’s spying.

Join EFF in calling for a full investigation here.

United States Constitution, Amendment IV:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Related articles:
Plausible deniability: The strange and unbelievable similarities in the Apple, Google, and Facebook PRISM denials – June 7, 2013
Google’s Larry Page on government eavesdropping: ‘We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday’ – June 7, 2013
Seecrypt app lets iPhone, Android users keep voice calls, text messages away from carriers, government eyes and ears – June 7, 2013
Obama administration defends PRISM data-collection as legal anti-terrorism tool – June 7, 2013
Facebook, Google, Yahoo join Apple in sort-of denying PRISM involvement – June 7, 2013
Report: Intelligence program gives U.S. government direct access to customer data on Apple servers; Apple denies – June 6, 2013