The existence of Prism has shocked many Americans, but perhaps it shouldn't have, because the program is a direct result of two things we already knew about, the AP says in an extensive new report. Firstly, the NSA is tapped straight into the fiber optic cables that carry a large portion of the world's Internet traffic, where it can pull all data entering and leaving the United States. We've actually known about that since 2005. Secondly, when the Protect America Act made warrantless wiretapping legal in 2007 (then-Senator Obama voted against the bill, notes the AP), it basically opened the doors for Prism to exist.
Prism is not all that different from what intelligence agencies were already doing, say reporters Stephen Brain, Anne Flaherty, Jack Gillum, and Matt Apuzzo, but they previously needed court orders and came in person. Now the process is streamlined and electronic. But Prism is still rooted in that data the NSA pulls from the cable pipeline. The report explains it like so:
- If eavesdroppers spot a suspicious email among the torrent of data pouring into the United States, analysts can use information from Internet companies to pinpoint the user. With Prism, the government gets a user's entire email inbox. Every email, including contacts with American citizens, becomes government property. Once the NSA has an inbox, it can search its huge archives for information about everyone with whom the target communicated. All those people can be investigated, too.
So really, Prism is just a piece of the puzzle, and it's the broader program of tapping into fiber optic cables we should be worried about, experts say. "I'm much more frightened and concerned about real-time monitoring on the Internet backbone," says the CEO of a software firm. "I cannot think of anything, outside of a face-to-face conversation, that they could not have access to." Click to read the full report from the AP