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3/17/2014
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IBM: We'll Stand Up To NSA

IBM denies sharing customer information with U.S. government, asserts it would challenge any data demands through "judicial action or other means."

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IBM denies sharing customer data with the U.S. government and says it would challenge any demands for information through "judicial action or other means."

IBM on Friday issued an open letter to its clients assuring them that it has not relinquished customer data to the U.S. government and it pointedly said it will do whatever is necessary to protect such data and notify customers of any government requests.

The letter was issued soon after the Intercept News Site reported last week that that classified documents pilfered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the NSA had built technology to automatically infect "potentially millions of computers" around the world with malware in order for the agency to glean data from foreign Internet and phone networks.

[Want more on the fallout on NSA spying? Read NSA Denies Impersonating Facebook To Serve Malware.]

"Our business model sets us apart from many of the companies that have been associated with the surveillance programs that have been disclosed," stated IBM senior VP, legal and regulatory affairs, Robert C. Weber, in the open letter, alluding to NSA's Prism program and other data-collection initiatives. "Unlike those companies, IBM’s primary business does not involve providing telephone or Internet-based communication services to the general public."

As a business that provides services to corporations and other enterprise customers, IBM said its customer relationships are governed by contracts. Even in cases where IBM has access to individual communications through use of customer infrastructure, that data is owned by the client.

"If a government wants access to data held by IBM on behalf of an enterprise client, we would expect that government to deal directly with that client," wrote Weber. And if the U.S. government were to serve a national security order on IBM to obtain client data and impose a gag order prohibiting IBM from notifying that client, "IBM will take appropriate steps to challenge the gag order through judicial action or other means."

Despite its protests of innocence, IBM as well as other U.S.-based businesses are to be suffering serious business consequences as a result of the NSA Prism scandal. In November, The Center for Strategic Studies in Washington D.C. alleged that China is retaliating for U.S. government surveillance programs by curbing purchases from IBM, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and other U.S. tech firms. IBM's sales in China declined by 23% in 2013, contributing to a 5% overall decline in revenues for the year.

In December the Louisiana Sheriffs' Pension & Relief Fund, which is heavily invested in IBM stock, sued the company accusing it of concealing ties to the spying scandal that hit business in China and ultimately led to a $12 billion drop in the company's stock value.

Concluding his letter, Weber challenged the U.S. government to have "robust debate" on surveillance reforms including new transparency provisions that would expose the scope of intelligence programs and data collected. He also called on all governments not to find ways around encryption technology intended to protect business data. Last week NSA whistleblower Snowden called encryption the last, best defense against "the dark arts in the digital realm."

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Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

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AnthonyLiving11
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AnthonyLiving11,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2014 | 4:07:12 AM
i dont get it
I'm sorry but does this mean that IBM will give free access to their servers to NSA? I don't get why there's still privacy/security term in most of the websites. There's no such thing anymore..
J_Brandt
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J_Brandt,
User Rank: Ninja
3/28/2014 | 2:42:29 PM
Trust is Gone
In an era where even talking about the government "requests" gets you in trouble, it's hard to take IBM or anyone else seriously.  Trust has been broken in a major way and may never be earned back.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
3/27/2014 | 4:00:25 PM
Government for sale
The really funny thing about IBMs adamant denial of cooperating with the NSA is that (like Google and Yahoo) it is lying.  Snowden himself revealed that Prism was the program responsible for warrantless spying on Americans.  If industry wants to heal the trust issue consumers have rightly called out, then it should pay its pet politicians to call off the NSA.  The US has the best govt money can buy, after all.
KevinO442
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KevinO442,
User Rank: Strategist
3/19/2014 | 3:28:32 PM
Re: If you don't buy our servers, we won't buy yours.
"Still, with GCHQ and NSA leaning over everyone, is there any part of the world that's that safe from government oversight? "

Will you buy a replacement microsoft computer next year , knowing microsoft is legally required by USA Law to help NSA spy on you if they so choose ? Or will  you spend a little time looking around for alternatives ? How about a phone made in the USA ? How about a "streaming google stick" that streams TV from the internet to your TV (and thus knows everything you're watching ) ?


USA is going to take a big economic hit , and all sorts of corperations that would normally be edged out of the market due to the microsoft monopoly , for example , will have their day. And governments are already starting to look at more local internets , just for their own country.

The trust in the USA is gone, and 10 months of Obama giving the world his middle finger instead of working to solve it doesn't help win anything back. Fisa Section 702 makes it legal for the USA (in their opinion) to spy on every non-american in the whole wide world. But I think the rest of the world has a different opinion.

Someone figured they would never get caught. And that is always a mistake.

My only regret is that I'm a Canadian , and Canada was little more than a lap dog to NSA the whole time.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/19/2014 | 10:54:14 AM
Re: If you don't buy our servers, we won't buy yours.
I wonder if that will end up being the gold standard of hardware in the future? Perhaps we'll see labelling along the lines of food that says it was produced locally. Still, with GCHQ and NSA leaning over everyone, is there any part of the world that's that safe from government oversight? 
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2014 | 7:59:15 PM
Re: If you don't buy our servers, we won't buy yours.
@Kevin0442 I agree, but do you think it's likely to happen?
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 6:32:55 PM
Re: If you don't buy our servers, we won't buy yours.
Good point, Doug. Hardware back doors are probably a whole other column!
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 6:27:42 PM
Re: If you don't buy our servers, we won't buy yours.
CORRECTION: IBM only unloaded its X86 business. IBM still manufactures System Z mainframes and Power System servers. These were always the big money makers to begin with.
KevinO442
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KevinO442,
User Rank: Strategist
3/18/2014 | 5:54:00 PM
Re: If you don't buy our servers, we won't buy yours.
All "secure servers" for use by the local governments need to be manufactured locally. (within that same country).  It's really the only solution because countries like China won't hesitate to build in a back door if they ever become part of a contract for some foreign countries government utilized netowrk.
KevinO442
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KevinO442,
User Rank: Strategist
3/18/2014 | 5:46:06 PM
Resistance is Futile
You live in a country where they've already kicked in the door with FBI agents once and demanded the keys or they'll arrest everyone in sight.

 

Your statement should be , more accurately "IBM : We'll Stand Up to NSA only until the start arresting us... "

 And , of course, since you are legally required to deny (or technically "not to disclose" ) your cooperation with the NSA , your letter denying you ever told them anything means nothing. You'd be sending the exact same letter whether you did or you didn't.

 
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