Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in an interview with Russia Today, though waiting extradition to Sweden for alleged sexual assault charges, spoke of Facebook as being "the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented".
Considering last week's posts, he may well be onto something.
We already know that the USA PATRIOT Act can be used, without necessarily the need of a court order or search warrant, to access the data held by a U.S. company in a datacenter or on a university campus. However, this can also apply to non-US datacenters and offices which are wholly owned and operated by U.S. organisations.
Arguably, a sceptic may simply pass off Assange's assertions as the ramblings of a paranoid delusionist. On the other hand, and take my word on this, though I don't necessarily agree nor can confirm all of his suspicions, there is sufficient evidence to at least support many of his claims.
Explaining his thoughts in greater detail, as reported by The Next Web, he said:
"Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence."
True. I don't think anyone can doubt that as fact; again, considering the report on the Patriot Act last week.
Even if Facebook does have datacenters in Europe to comply with EU data protection legislation, as a US parent company, Facebook (U.S.) can be served with a request to access Facebook (EU) data which it wholly owns and controls. To not hand over the data would be, to put it simply, like having an argument with yourself.
However, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed this morning that all of its datacenters are in the U.S; one on either coast and one in Oregon. This means all Facebook data is automatically vulnerable to the Patriot Act, regardless of the user's nationality.
So, we can tick off that particular quote as accurate.
On the other hand, Assange believes that along with other major technology companies, both in the cloud and otherwise, are complicit to U.S. authorities wishing to inspect data held by these companies, by way of a 'built in interface' for intelligence officials.
Going on, he explains in further detail:
"It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena, they have an interface they have developed for US Intelligence to use. Now, is the case that Facebook is run by US Intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US Intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure to them.
It’s costly for them to hand out individual records, one by one, so they have automated the process."
Facebook aside, let us not forget that just over a year ago, a leaked document released by Cryptome, a Wikileaks-style repository, detailing how Microsoft directly works with law enforcement authorities to allow access under specific acts of law, designed to prevent terrorism, loss of life or serious injury.
The "Global Criminal Compliance Handbook", which can still be found online, runs through which data is collected from users by Microsoft, including your stored emails, Messenger conversation data, when you sign in, where from, credit card information, IP connection details and so on.
Microsoft is not to blame though, as Gregg Keizer points out. All companies, not just Microsoft, are required to comply with local and state laws to allow law enforcement to access specific data when it is necessary.
So, if Microsoft is not the exception, Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and other major and smaller companies with services in the cloud must also hand over data, with or without a warrant, depending on the Act of law invoked.
While it's fair to say that he may not be entirely right, in that he cannot prove his assertions, he's certainly not entirely wrong.
- ZDNet's USA PATRIOT Act series
- Wikileaks Assange to be extradited from UK; Appeals expected to be lodged
- US subpoenas Wikileaks tweets, and why this could affect you
- Why Wikileaks cannot be a ‘terrorist organisation’
- State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects