The public is already reeling from the revelation that the National Security Agency, sanctioned by the White House, is covertly grabbing millions of Verizon customers' call data. But if that's not unsettling enough, there's even more evidence piling up now that we're living in a much deeper surveillance state than most people realized.
The Guardian and The Washington Post both reported on a secret, previously unknown program that gives the federal government access to the servers of nine major Internet companies. The latter got its hands on government documents referencing PRISM, which allows the NSA and FBI to conduct deep dives into data from the likes of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. These searches lay bare an array of information, including search histories, emails, live chats, file transfers, audio, video — practically anything these companies track and store. (Notably, the NSA mentioned in a presentation that DropBox is coming soon. But Twitter, conspicuously, is absent.)
The secret program was reportedly started in 2007, and has since evolved into a major information pipeline informing the daily intelligence reports of the President himself. But, reports The Post, agents are not permitted under current law to collect everything. However, "from inside a company's data stream, the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes…" Foreign communication is of particular interest, but even when investigators aren't zeroing in on an American suspect, the agency "the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content."
The existence of PRISM doesn't necessarily mean that there's misconduct, but, notes The Guardian, it does pave the way for the U.S. government to expand no-warrant surveillance of all/any its citizens and residents.
Although both news organizations report that PRISM has the permission of the tech companies to conduct its affairs, various spokespeople — from Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and Yahoo — vehemently deny this.
UPDATE: The Washington Post seems to be reversing its previous editorial that the companies knowingly allowed direct access to their servers.
"In another classified report obtained by The Post, the arrangement is described as allowing "collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations," rather than directly to company servers."
This is a major admission. It means that the companies cited may not have been complicit in this initiative. For more, click here to go to The Washington Post, or check out the breakdown by The Next Web here. In other news, it seems that British intelligence is also making use of the data collected by PRISM, reports The Guardian.