Silicon Valley, NSA might be closer than we thought

A New York Times piece claims certain companies in Silicon Valley have secret teams aimed at providing better information to the NSA.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger

It appears that the National Security Agency and at least some Silicon Valley-based companies are tighter than both have contended.

Several unidentified Silicon Valley companies have at times established secret teams of employees charged with making their customers' data more accessible to the NSA, The New York Times is reporting on Thursday, citing both current and former "industry officials." The companies say that they're establishing the teams so they can control how data is transferred to the NSA, but the government agency is also applying pressure to make it easier for its employees to access data.

The Times was able to identify one company that has established such a team in the past: Skype. The Microsoft-owned company, the Times' sources claim, established a small team of employees to work on the "legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available" to the NSA and other law enforcement agencies. The effort, called Project Chess, was established in 2008 -- long before Microsoft acquired the company, the Times' sources say.

The NSA's efforts to access data has become a huge topic of interest for Web users after several companies have revealed that they have complied with government requests for data. The companies argue that their data is kept safe and is not viewed by anyone, but when a warrant is obtained, some information must be legally handed over.

Judging by the Times' findings, however, it appears some such companies and their NSA counterparts might be a little closer than we're led to believe.