After yesterday’s news that Verizon is compelled to share all phone call metadata with the NSA on a daily basis comes the incendiary revelation that the spy agency has direct access to the servers – and the data contained on them – of a host of big U.S. Internet companies, including Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple, AOL, YouTube, Skype and PalTalk.
The Guardian and The Washington Post have both managed to get their hands on a top secret PowerPoint presentation that is used to inform intelligence operatives about the capabilities of the so-called PRISM program. It apparently allows access to email and chat content, videos, photos, stored data, transferred files, notifications, online social networking details, and more.
According to the presentation, the companies in question are knowingly participating in the program, but several of them (Google, Apple, Microsoft) have already denied it and knowing anything about it.
According to The Guardian, the program has been introduced in 2007, and the latest addition to it is Apple, who joined in 2012. The next company to join is allegedly Dropbox.
U.S. legislators and politicians have reacted to the news differently.
While former U.S. vice president Al Gore has dubbed the blanket surveillance powers in the Verizon case “obscenely outrageous,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and other committee members have said that everyone – every member of the Senate – has been aware of the surveillance going on for years.
Senator Saxby Chambliss (also a member of the aforementioned committee) has he was not aware of a single citizen filing a complaint about the program. It now seems obvious that is because they didn’t know about it.
Other legislators took a more conciliatory approach, saying that the move was obviously executed in accordance with the Patriot Act, but that “more oversight” is needed.
Director of national intelligence James Clapper offered more details about the Verizon order, adding that “surveillance programs like this one are consistently subject to safeguards that are designed to strike the appropriate balance between national security interests and civil liberties and privacy concerns.”
He also commented on today’s revelation saying that information collected under the PRISM program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information they collect, and is used to protect the U.S. from a wide variety of threats.
“It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States,” he wrote, adding that it was done legally, then finishing with a condemnation of the unauthorized disclosure of information about it.
Privacy advocates have also voiced their disapproval of the NSA’s actions. “The NSA is part of the military,” commented ACLU’s Center for Democracy director Jameel Jaffer. “This is unprecedented militarisation of domestic communications infrastructure. That’s profoundly troubling to anyone who is concerned about that separation.”