- Companies are all compelled by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to hand over any information requested under the law, but they’re not required to make access easier
- PRISM data-mining program was launched in 2007 with approval from special federal judges
- Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and PalTalk are involved in spying program
- Details of data collection were outlined in classified 41-slide PowerPoint presentation that was leaked by intelligence officer
PUBLISHED: 08:07 EST, 9 June 2013 | UPDATED: 08:25 EST, 9 June 2013
Analysts at the National Security Agency are able to secretly access real-time user data provided by as many as 50 American companies, ranging from credit rating agencies to internet service providers.
According to two government officials familiar with the arrangements, several of the companies have provided records continuously since 2006, while others have given the agency sporadic access.
The officials disclosed the number of participating companies in order to provide context for a series of disclosures about the NSA’s domestic collection policies.
Many of the details are unveiled by Mark Ambinder, co-author of a new book about government secrecy and surveillance, Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry.
Storage space: NSA’s Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, where government records of citizen’s phone and internet usage could be kept
‘The idea is to create a mosaic. We get a tip. We vet it. Then we mine the data for intelligence,’ one of the officials said to The Week.
In a statement, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that programs collect communications ‘pursuant to section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, ‘ and ‘cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S person, or anyone within the United States.’
The NSA needs several different collection tools, of which PRISM is one.
PRISM works well because it is able to handle several different types of data streams using different basic encryption methods.
It is a ‘front end’ system, or software, that allows an NSA analyst to search through the data and pull out items of significance, which are then stored in any number of databases.
No knowledge: Internet giant Google said that it had never heard of the PRISM scheme before reports broke last week
From the different types of data, including their credit card purchases, the locations they sign in to the internet from, and even local police arrest logs, the NSA can track people it considers terrorism or espionage suspects in near-real time.
An internet geo-location cell is on constant standby to help analysts determine where a subject logs in from.
Most of the collection takes place on subjects outside the U.S, but a large chunk of the world’s relevant communication passes through American companies with servers on American soil.
What is more unclear is how the NSA interacts with the companies.
Computer giant: Apple also said that it had never heard of the PRISM program until now but reports say it has worked contributed to discussions with the government concerning sharing information
Several of the companies mentioned in past few days deny granting access to the NSA. Might be possibly be lying or is it that the NSA’s arrangements with individual companies are kept so tightly that very few people know about it?
One official likened the NSA’s collection authority to a van full of sealed boxes that are delivered to the agency.
A court order permits the transfer of custody of the ‘boxes.’ however, the NSA needs something else, a specific purpose or investigation, in order to open a particular box.
Classified: The particulars of the PRISM data-mining program have been outlined in a top-secret PowerPoint presentation for senior intelligence analysts, which ended up being leaked
Participants: This graph shows when each of the nine tech companies joined PRISM, with Apple being the latest addition in October 2012
The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the standard was ‘a reasonable, articulatable’ suspicion, but did not go into details.
The NSA can collect and store trillions of bytes electronic information revealed by American citizens.
In the government’s eyes, the data is simply moving from one place to another.
It does not become, in the government’s eyes, relevant or protected in any way unless and until it is subject to analysis.
Bombshell: NSA and FBI have been extracting audio, video, photos, e-mails, documents and other data from Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and PalTalk
Key source: PRISM has been described by NSA officials ‘as the most prolific contributor to the president’s Daily Brief,’ providing analysts with a wealth of ‘raw material’
A spokesperson for Apple also denied any knowledge of PRISM’s existence.
It was claimed that the Silicon Valley companies involved in the PRISM program are Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and the lesser known Internet company PalTalk, which has hosted a lot of traffic during the Arab Spring and the on-going Syrian civil war.
However, only Facebook and Google have been shown to have worked toward creating ‘online rooms’ in which to share data with the government.
The wave of disclosures about the NSA programs have significantly unsettled the intelligence community.
Targets: The tech giants involved in involved in PRISM are Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and the lesser known Internet company PalTalk
The documents obtained by the two newspapers are marked ORCON, or originator controlled, which generally means that the agency keeps a record of every person who accesses them online and knows exactly who might have printed out or saved or accessed a copy. The NSA in particular has a good record of protecting its documents.
The scope of the latest leak suggests that several people with top-level security clearances had to be involved.
Clapper said in his statement that the disclosures about the program ‘risk important protections for the security of Americans.’
‘Reprehensible’: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper branded the program ‘reprehensible’ and said it risks Americans’ security
Mining for data: The NSA has been getting millions of phone records from Verizon on a daily basis for months without any justification for the order