Denials in surveillance program require decoding

June 7, 2013 • Business

A man walks past a Google sign in Mountain View, Calif., Friday, June 7, 2013. Google CEO Larry Page is denying reports linking the Internet search company to a secret government program that has provided the National Security Agency access to email and other personal information transmitted on various online services. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google CEO Larry Page and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg are denying reports that depict two of the Internet’s most influential companies as willing participants in a secret government program that gives the National Security Agency unfettered access to email and other personal information transmitted on various online services.

The rebuttals issued Friday in blog posts expand upon earlier statements that the companies issued in an attempt to distance themselves from a government surveillance program that is raising questions. At issue is whether the NSA has constructed a direct pipeline into the computers that run some of the world’s most widely used online services.

Each of the statements issued by Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and the five other companies linked to the program has been carefully worded in ways that doesn’t rule out the possibility that the NSA has been gathering online communications as part of its efforts to uncover terrorist plots and other threats to U.S. national security.

“I think a lot of people are spending a lot of time right now trying to parse those denials,” says Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. “The top level point is simply: it’s pretty hard to know what those denials mean.”

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