Yahoo! and Facebook CEOs Break Silence Over NSA Leaks

CEO's from Yahoo! and Facebook speak out regarding the U.S. government spying program known as PRISM -- and they don't mince words.

First, Yahoo! and Facebook went to court in a bid to share more details with customers about the PRISM program. Now their top executives are speaking out about the surveillance program–and they aren’t mincing words.

Pushing back against a public backlash over PRISM, executives from Facebook and Yahoo! sought to reframe their company’s image in separate interviews at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the audience that the government did a “really bad job.”

“I think the government blew it,” Zuckerberg said in reference to the leaks made by Edward Snowden. “I think they blew it on communicating what they were – basically the balance of what they were going for here with this.”

“We take our role really seriously,” Zuckerberg said today. “I think it’s my job,
and our job, to protect everyone who uses Facebook and all the information that they share with us.”

Zuckerberg said the social network has been pushing for more transparency, “and I think we’ve made a big difference.” He closed with this final thought without a hint of irony for anyone who covers the company.

“I wish the government would be more proactive about communicating.”

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer said that company executives feared getting thrown in jail for not complying with U.S. government requests. “Releasing classified information is treason and you are incarcerated.”

Mayer added that she was, “proud to be part of an organization that from the beginning, in 2007, has been skeptical of – and has been scrutinizing – those requests [from the NSA].”

On Monday, Facebook, Google and Yahoo! filed motions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, asking for permission to share more data about the government requests.

Bloomberg TV has the video of the interviews here.

In an unrelated interview, Bart Gellman of the Washington Post appeared on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” with Terri Gross yesterday to talk about his reporting on PRISM, and the cost to the companies that these leaks have caused.  In the telecom days, company’s routinely complied with NSA requests out of a sense of patriotism, he said.

“The new Silicon Valley-based internet companies did not have the same traditions, but to one degree or another they went along and they were under legal compulsion to do so. … But it was very important to them and to the government to keep their identities a secret. …

“The thing the intelligence community most wanted to protect in that first story [we wrote] — the most they asked us to hold back was the names of the companies. And we cooperated to a considerable degree with security requests, but my argument back to them was if the damage that you’re worried about consists of the companies being less willing to cooperate or suffering a blow to their businesses because the public or their customers don’t like what they’re doing or don’t approve of the program, that’s exactly why we have to publish it. That’s the core duty we have in terms of accountability reporting.”