The NSA slide that tech experts say Glenn Greenwald misinterpreted. (The Guardian/NSA, US Federal Government.)
Glenn Greenwald has posted a response to his critics today, including myself, titled “On PRISM, Partisanship, and Propaganda”: “In a Nation post yesterday,” he writes, “Rick Perlstein falsely accuses me of not having addressed the questions about the PRISM story.” Actually I didn’t accuse him of not having addressed “the questions,” but instead a single question, which he still does not address: whether, in his claim that corporations have allowed the National Security Agency direct access to their servers, he misunderstands the meaning of the word “server” in an NSA slide to imply “all their data,” when it probably means “places to store a highly delimited amount of secured data the companies have agreed to provide to the government after consultation with their lawyers in response to government requests made through legal channels.” (By the way, you can still hold that those “legal channels” are ghastly, invasive and immoral, as I suspect they may well be, and stimultaneously believe that Greenwald may have made a grave and self-defeating error both in terms of accuracy and in terms of advocacy.)
My interpretation comes from someone I deeply respect and trust, Karl Fogel, whose professional integrity dwarfs just about anyone else’s I know. Karl explains a bit more about his qualifications to speak below; you can learn more about those at this link. I asked him to respond to Greenwald’s response, which I publish below. Further discussion of the technical issues can be carried out at his personal site, Rants.org. Later, I’ll weigh in with further reflections of my own on questions raised by Greenwald in which I am more expert: on partisanship and propaganda; on the mores, methods and motivations of journalism and journalists; and on best practices, as I understand them from my study of American political history, for bending the arc of history toward justice when the powerful would prefer to just shut the justice-seekers down.
For now, though, here’s Karl:
Greenwald seems to be responding to a different point than the actually one at issue. As I said before, the important question is this:
Do any documents in the PRISM leak claim that the NSA has direct, unfettered access to the servers where major Internet companies store their users’ data? The kind of access where the NSA can roam at will, searching and copying anything it wants, without interference from the company’s lawyers?
In other words, are the humans still in the chain? Do the companies retain control of their users’ data until they decide to hand something over, or do they give up control pre-emptively?