The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.
The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.
The Post reports almost 1 in 7 intelligence reports rely on raw data from PRISM. All nine companies (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple) “participate knowingly” according to the Post, which obtained slides of an internal presentation on the operation. Drop Box is listed as “coming soon.” The Post notes this program’s historical roots in the 70s, when the NSA teamed up with up to 100 U.S. companies in the 1970s for “Special Sources Operations,” and in the Bush era warrantless surveillance program.
This follows earlier (yesterday!) breaking news on NSA surveillance of Americans’ phone records through Verizon, as the administration’s propensity to spy on Americans and stretch its legal powers becomes increasingly apparent to the mainstream. BuzzFeed has a quiz titled “Orwell or Obama?” (disclosure: I tripped up on #8 just before seeing this story). Meanwhile, Huffington Post’s news banner headline today is GEORGE W. OBAMA. If you’ve been reading Reason, you know this story already.
Update: The Washington Post story was revised to add official denials from spokespersons for the companies identified in the NSA document the Post obtained.