While the events of PRISM and the information revealed by Edward Snowden are still sending shockwaves through the government and the governed alike, there's word that says something of a backlash is in the works as Yahoo—backed up by a coterie of tech firms—looks to take on the wrath of the government in a new legal action.
The suit in question was filed in the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court, which supplies NSA surveillance with its necessary legal framework. The suit in question seeks to allow Yahoo to publicize the number of requests that it receives from the NSA for information about users, something that currently is against the law to do. This, according to Yahoo, fosters mistrust on the part of users, and leaves Yahoo “unable to engage fully in the debate about whether the government has properly used its powers because the government has placed a prior restraint on Yahoo's speech.”
Previously, Yahoo would have commented on issues raised by news media, such as how the PRISM program provided the ability to access servers directly, a claim Yahoo notes as “false,” but was largely unable to discuss thanks to current law.
Google (News - Alert), meanwhile, was also involved, filing an amended motion which noted that its reputation was coming under fire as a result of all this, and the NSA's recent embrace of transparency was much, much shorter than what was actually needed to protect Google's reputation from falling apart. Microsoft (News - Alert) was also involved in the action, all seeking the FISA court to offer up more information. The government did offers some general figures in terms of data requests, but didn't offer up the kinds of specifics that would have better allowed the companies to defend involvement in the matter.
The companies involved in going after the NSA all seem to have one thing in common: issues of reputation. Indeed, there's a lot at stake here; the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank, described in a recently-released report that the cost of lost reputation for data storage cloud services could reach $35 billion by 2016. That's a pretty big cost, and it leaves out the issue of reimbursement of legal costs in terms of complying with the law. Yahoo, at last report, was after a certain amount for reimbursement, while Facebook (News - Alert) reportedly said that it had received none at all. Plus, consider issues like video conferencing and other communications technologies that may find a chilling effect in store if users simply don't trust the systems in question.
The companies involved certainly have a point. While the rank and file citizenry may blame the government for being a lot more snoopy than really necessary, this blame won't express itself as reductions in taxes paid or fees paid in terms of optional government services. This blame will commonly express itself as users—and potential users as well—eschewing cloud storage systems and the like. This is ultimately a sock in the corporate wallet, not the government's, and the corporations in question are out to protect that wallet.
While it will likely take some time for the whole affair to properly shake out and see what the results are—whether the government will allow corporations to better defend against accusations of unnecessary snooping—the issue itself is clearly a difficult one for the government, for the corporations whose systems are involved, and for the users whose use of said systems is what's being monitored in the first place.