Charges that we live in a surveillance state are about to get much louder. The Guardian and the Washington Post are separately reporting about a previously unknown program known as PRISM that gives the federal government access to the servers of all the big Internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple. Members of the NSA and FBI use that access to collect information that includes search history, emails, live chats, file transfers, audio, video—pretty much everything is fair game, it seems. More:
- The uber-secret program began in 2007, and PRISM data has grown to become a vital part of the daily intelligence briefing given to the president, say the papers, which both obtained a secret 41-slide PowerPoint described by the Guardian as an intelligence training document.
- The Post reports that the slides present PRISM as the NSA's "leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports." Write Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, "That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications."
- "The PRISM program is not a dragnet, exactly," they continue. "From inside a company’s data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes, but under current rules the agency does not try to collect it all." The focus is on foreign communication, but even "with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content."
- The Guardian adds that it "opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants."
- Both papers say the program is run with the permission of the Internet companies, though the Guardian got denials from spokespeople it contacted, including ones at Google and Apple.