The CEOs of both Yahoo and Facebook called on the National Security Agency (NSA) to be more transparent about requests for data about their users during a conference Wednesday in San Francisco.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg fielded questions about corporate strategy, leadership and the future of the Internet during interviews at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, but the tough question both of them answered was about their companies complying with NSA requests for user data. Videos of their interviews are available below.
Mayer said her company was pushing back against government requests for data but she was limited in what she could say about the classified NSA programs because she could potentially go to jail.
"Releasing classified information is treason," Mayer said, promising that her company would push for greater transparency from the government and take steps to protect the privacy of Yahoo's users. "It makes more sense for us to work within the system."
In a separate interview during the conference, Zuckerberg flatly said "the government blew it," by not providing enough information about the PRISM program used by the NSA after information about the surveillance program was first reported by news agencies in June.
When the Obama administration said it was only collecting information on people outside the United States after the news reports in June, Zuckerberg said he responded, "Oh wonderful. That's really helpful to companies who are trying to serve people around the world. That's really going to inspire confidence in American Internet companies. Thanks for going out there and being really clear about what you're doing."
"It's our job to protect everyone who uses Facebook," Zuckerberg said. "It's our government's job to protect all of us, our freedom, and the economy and companies. They did a bad job at balancing this."
The calls for transparency by Mayer and Zuckerberg echoed lawsuits filed on Monday against the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by Yahoo and separately by Facebook, which each demanded the right to publicly disclose the amount of user data requests those companies receive from the government. Google made similar petitions to the FISC earlier this year, as did Microsoft. Yahoo and Facebook also have begun publishing transparency reports detailing requests for data from government agencies.
The collection of Internet data by the NSA is a significant breach of privacy because these companies have a global reach, said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT). Both Yahoo and Facebook signed a joint petition with the CDT, along with numerous other companies and organizations, requesting greater transparency about national security-related requests by the US government to Internet, telephone, and Web-based service providers.
"They have global customers who are very, very worried," Harris said. "These services are now an integral part of their life."