Yahoo's Marissa Mayer claims tech CEOs faced jail if they did not hand over data

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Tech companies are hitting back at those who accuse them of being too compliant with NSA government surveillance. Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, argued that the companies came under intolerable government pressure and faced jail time if they did not go along with the requests for personal data.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook joined Mayer and other tech companies in filing a lawsuit asking for the right to disclose just how much personal data was passed on to the NSA. At present such disclosure is illegal.

Mayer put it more bluntly. "Releasing classified information is treason and you are incarcerated." She believes that, given that degree of coercion, it is wrong to blame the tech companies for complying with NSA requests. "I'm proud to be part of an organisation that from the beginning, in 2007, has been sceptical of – and has been scrutinizing – those requests," she said.

It's difficult to go along with Mayer's stance as a heroic defender of freedom, and even less so in the case of Facebook, although Zuckerberg has spoken out in support of Mayer. "We are not psyched that we had to sue in order to get this and we take it very seriously," he said.

"Frankly I think the government blew it," he added, citing the example of Prism, the government surveillance programme targeting internet companies and social media in particular. "The government response was, 'Oh don't worry we are not spying on any Americans.' Oh wonderful that's really helpful to companies that are trying to serve people around the world and that's really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies."

The other intriguing question is why Facebook, Google, Yahoo other internet companies are so obsessed with collecting and storing very detailed data about their users. Marketing is the bland answer, but users are entitled to feel paranoid about how their files are being exploited, not just by government spies, but by the companies themselves.

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