It’s had to have been an interesting week for the people at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The non-profit has been beating the drum about the importance of digital rights, privacy, and metadata for decades now. And in recent years, one of the EFF’s causes has been to shed more light on the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) and specifically its use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to essentially spy on the telecommunications and web activity of millions of innocent Americans under the guise of keeping them safe.
Now those issues have come to the forefront of the mainstream’s consciousness, with a series of revelations this week that the NSA has reportedly been secretly working together with major tech companies to give the government access huge amounts of private user data through a classified project called PRISM.
So it was a massive pleasure to have Peter Eckersley, the EFF’s Technology Projects Director, in TechCrunch TV’s San Francisco studio yesterday afternoon to speak about all that’s going on. It was a relatively long conversation, but I think it could have gone on much longer and continued to be fascinating — Eckersley is an expert on this subject and clearly passionate about the cause, and there were lots of bases to cover.
What’s interesting is that I spoke to Eckersley just one hour before the New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller reported that the technology companies named in the leaked PRISM slides were indeed complicit with the NSA’s data mining, contrary to their cleverly worded public denials. As you’ll see above, he expected that was exactly the case — that the tech companies involved in PRISM have been issuing clever “deniable denials” about what is going on, rather than telling the full truth. The reason they’re doing so, Eckersley said (and the NYT reported), is FISA.
We discussed the history of FISA, how the EFF is fighting for more transparency (and why it matters), why this news of companies like Facebook and Google working with the NSA is a surprising disappointment even to the folks at the EFF, what people who care about their privacy should do now, and much more.