The leaders of the country's largest technology companies are apparently taking personally allegations that they are cooperating in a covert program that funnels users' information to the government.
Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, the chief executive officiers of Facebook and Google, respectively, each issued strongly worded statements late Friday, denying any involvement in the so-called PRISM program.
"I want to respond personally to the outrageous press reports about PRISM," Zuckerberg wrote in a public Facebook message that was liked 69,000 times in the 21 minutes after it was posted. "Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers."
Page similarly pushed back in a blog post cosigned by Google's chief lawyer, David Drummond, titled "What the...?"
"Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users' data are false, period," the Google executive wrote.
Late Thursday, The Washington Post and The Guardian each published separate stories on the secret surveillance program, reporting that it siphons text, photographs and other digital information from nine major U.S. Internet companies -- Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple -- and allows the U.S. government to monitor users' online activities. The original version of the Post's story suggested the firms were voluntarily giving the government direct access to their servers -- a claim the paper later seemed to hedge.
The personal statements make sense for Zuckerberg and Page, both of whom are closely associated in the public's mind with the firms they founded and helm.
"We hadn't even heard of PRISM before yesterday," Zuckerberg wrote, echoing denials of the program's existence by both Page and an Apple spokesperson.
A majority of the companies linked to PRISM -- including Google, Facebook and AOL, the parent company of The Huffington Post -- issued short statements denying involvement soon after the reports were published.
Both CEOs insisted that their companies were not under any blanket order to disclose data to authorities, such as the one reportedly affecting Verizon, the telecom provider. According to a separate Guardian report published Wednesday, a U.S. court secretly ordered Verizon to give the National Security Agency access to three month's worth of customer call records.
Zuckerberg and Page said they hand over information to authorities only when legally compelled to do so. Page cited Google's frequently issued transparency reports, which detail the volume of data requests from governments around the world, as evidence of Google's commitment to user privacy.
Such unambiguous denials are rare for corporations. Compare the tech companies' response to that of Verizon, which refused to acknowledge its cooperation with the NSA even to its own employees in a leaked internal memo.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more