Facebook's Zuckerberg sounds off again about NSA scandal

CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the NSA spy scandal that broke this past summer has strained some of the company's relationships overseas.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks to journalist David Kirkpatrick during the keynote session at Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona. CNET/Stephen Shankland

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is on a crusade to connect another billion people to the Internet. But the US government's spy scandal last year won't likely make those efforts any easier for the company, Zuckerberg said Monday during an interview at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

"It's not awesome for us," Zuckerberg admitted when asked a question by interviewer David Kirkpatrick, a technology journalist and author of the 2010 book "The Facebook Effect." Kirkpatrick, who was interviewing Zuckerberg as part of the afternoon keynote at MWC, asked him how leaked documents from former government contractor Edward Snowden suggesting that Facebook and other Internet companies were giving the US National Security Agency unfettered access to their servers has affected Facebook's relationships with communications companies and governments overseas.

"The government blew it," he went on to say as he explained that he understands the government's responsibility to protect people. But he said the government also has a responsibility to be transparent about how it's keeping citizens safe.

He added, as he has stated publicly previously that the NSA was "way over the line" in terms of not being transparent enough.

"The NSA issues I think are real issues for American Internet companies," he said. "Trust is so important."

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He said that he's heartened by the US government's recent efforts to be more open about the data it collects. But he says it should never have happened in the first place.

"They're only now starting to get to the range of where they should have been," he said. "This thing could have all been avoidable."

Facebook, along with several other Internet technology companies, was implicated this past summer when documents were leaked from the NSA suggesting that the companies had participated in a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data-mining program called PRISM, which was launched in 2007 by the NSA. Under the program, the government collects and stores Internet communications from companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and others. These companies are required under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to turn over any data that matches court-approved search terms.

Zuckerberg has long denied that Facebook gives the government direct access to its servers. And he and several other CEOs from large Internet companies pushed back hard against the perception that his company was handing over massive amounts of personal information to the government. In September, Facebook joined Yahoo in filing a lawsuit asking the FISA court for permission to publish more detailed information about the data that is shared with the NSA.

In January, the Obama administration brokered a deal with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other technology firms that will allow the companies to disclose more information about the NSA surveillance requests that they receive targeting their users.

While the settlement is considered a big victory for the technology companies, many say it doesn't go far enough. Under the arrangement, companies can disclose in broad ranges the "number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests and the underlying legal authorities," Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a joint statement.

But the companies are still not able to give any specific information about the requests. Still, Facebook and others have backed off their push to get more information disclosed.

Judging from Monday's comments, it looks like Zuckerberg has not toned down his rhetoric though, as he continued to slam the government for going too far.