July 25, 2013 11:26 AM PDT
Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast did not respond to queries about whether they have received requests for users’ passwords and how they would respond to them.
Richard Lovejoy, a director of the Opera Software subsidiary that operates FastMail, said he doesn’t recall receiving any such requests but that the company still has a relatively small number of users compared with its larger rivals. Because of that, he said, "we don’t get a high volume" of U.S. government demands.
The FBI declined to comment.
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. "The authority of the government is essentially limitless" under that law, Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who serves on the Senate Intelligence committee, said at a Washington event this week.
Large Internet companies have resisted the government’s requests by arguing that "you don’t have the right to operate the account as a person," according to a person familiar with the issue. "I don’t know what happens when the government goes to smaller providers and demands user passwords," the person said.
An attorney who represents Internet companies said he has not fielded government password requests, but "we’ve certainly had reset requests — if you have the device in your possession, than a password reset is the easier way."