Last week, The New York Times reported that Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and others were creating secure portals where they stashed user data for the government to pick up. Google has already denied setting up such portals, further clarifying today that it hands data over to the feds on request. In fact, Google says it hasn't set up virtual lockboxes for the feds to access any data at any point. Instead, the company told Wired that when Google does comply with information requests from the government, it hands over data either by hand, or via secure FTP sites.
"We have been asked to do things in the past and we have declined." Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman, told Wired that "the US government does not have the ability to pull that data directly from our servers or network" — something we've heard from the company multiple times since The Wasington Post broke the story last week that major tech firms were forking over user data in a long-running FBI and NSA surveillance program called PRISM. The NSA has since acknowledged the program's existence, though there have been denials from every tech firm involved in the spying program that the effort involved direct server access or anything resembling a real-time surveillance system. In The Post's original story of PRISM's existence, its source — presumably Edward Snowden — notably said, "They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type." If Google's claims are accurate, though, that's not likely the case.
On Sunday, The Post reported that PRISM data was collected without the knowledge of the tech companies involved. "We refuse to participate in any program — for national security or other reasons — that requires us to provide governments with access to our systems or to install their equipment on our networks," Gaither told Wired. "We have been asked to do things in the past and we have declined."