"The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users' stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders," CNET News is reporting.
It adds that:
"If the government is able to determine a person's password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log in to an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user. Obtaining it also would aid in deciphering encrypted devices in situations where passwords are reused."
The story is the latest in a string of reports in recent weeks about steps that the National Security Agency and FBI are reportedly taking as they collect data they say are essential for national security — but in ways that critics say are intrusions into private lives.
What isn't clear from CNET's story is whether any such requests for passwords have led to companies actually turning over such information. Spokesmen for Microsoft, Google and Yahoo either would not comment or said they would not disclose users' passwords. "Apple, 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," CNET says.
It adds that "the FBI declined to comment."
The highest-profile recent stories about what the government has been up to, of course, concern the secrets spilled by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance programs.