Report: Government Secretly Asks For Americans’ Individual Passwords, Account Access


Two sources within the computing industry have told CNET that the U.S. government frequently demands major online service providers to hand over their individual users’ passwords in order to access their private information or to impersonate account holders.

Microsoft, Google and Yahoo all declined to say whether they had received such requests from the Feds. But then, they all but revealed that they do, telling CNET that they don’t provide that kind of information whenever they’ve been approached with orders to do so in the past. Of course, nearly all of the Nation’s major email and online service providers similarly — and, it turned out, falsely — denied that the National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped into their servers under the so-called PRISM program.

It’s not that these companies are eager to work with the government to undermine privacy. The profit motive offers a good incentive to keep the confidence of their millions of users.

But the government has been demonstrated to operate much of its surveillance, even at the service provider level, in secret. Or it obscures what it’s really going after by requesting batch data dumps and using a different body of terminology when dealing with computer companies than that which it uses internally, as Edward Snowden’s leaked documents demonstrate.

Too, the incredibly esoteric tech involved in decrypting password information has been a big boon to the NSA. The fact that almost no one outside the tech world understands how a company can legally divulge “password information” without revealing a user’s actual password has created an immense grey area in which transgressing or abiding by the spirit of standing laws may be easy to discern, but stretching the meaning of — while still adhering to — the letter of the law is anything but.

According to CNET:

Some details remain unclear, including when the requests began and whether the government demands are always targeted at individuals or seek entire password database dumps. The Patriot Act has been used to demand entire database dumps of phone call logs, and critics have suggested its use is broader.

…If the government can subsequently determine the password, “there’s a concern that the provider is enabling unauthorized access to the user’s account if they do that,” [Stanford professor Jennifer] Granick said. That could, she said, raise legal issues under the Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The Justice Department has argued in court proceedings before that it has broad legal authority to obtain passwords.

Watch for a new round of test-case lawsuits from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) or the American Civil Liberties Union to suss out just how far the government can go in obtaining any level of an individual’s private account information without a warrant. The EFF already is suing the NSA over the agency’s interpretation of what’s permitted by the surveillance warrants it obtains from the secret, unConstitutional Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • Harold Olsen

    I’m not sure about Yahoo, but if the Obama regime told Microsoft and Google they wanted personal information on their members I’m about 99.9% certain they’d turn over the information without hesitation. Other companies, such as Facebook, have admitted (actually bragged) that they give the Obama regime personal information without even waiting to be asked. Twitter, and it’s one of many reasons why I quit them, said they would also but would wait until asked.

    • FreedomFighter

      Vote with your money and feet.
      Cancel the services, don’t use the products, turn off the cable TV, They understand loss of income, as long as you use their product or service they and get away with selling you as a customer out, they will continue to sell you out. Take the money away and go with somebody that will not sell you out…at least now without a court order
      Laus DeoSemper FI

  • IsThisAmerica

    If everyone sued the government for millions of dollars, maybe it might slow them down. What business is it to them? That is our privacy and we need to keep it. Next thing you know they’ll want our pin numbers to our accounts. No way! I never joined Farcebook don’t believe in that at all.

    • Nadzieja Batki

      If everyone sued the “government” for millions of dollars, who is to say that paper is not worthless, how long will the cases be dragged out in the courts, what if the “government” told the Americans what to do with themselves, etc.. Does anyone consider that the “government” already has the passwords but to appease the Americans they put this out so that Americans can whine and squawk for a while and tire themselves out in the process.

    • TheTruthHurtsAsWell

      Dumbest idea ever… Considering suing the fed government would be suing yourself since the govt only generates money from taxpayers…

  • vicki

    The Terms of Service from almost any provider that requires you to have a password clearly state that sharing passwords is a violation of that contract. So if WE can’t give out the passwords, why can they?