Operation PRISM: NSA and FBI monitoring activity at Facebook, Apple, Google, and other tech firms

The Washington Post said that according to a top-secret document that it obtained, the National Security Agency and the FBI are working with the US and UK governments to allow them to make use of a direct link into the central servers of nine web companies to extract audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs. The idea is to allow intelligence analysts to track down foreign threats by monitoring the “chatter” that these represent. Any information collected on Americans is merely “incidental,” officials maintained.

According to the document, participating companies include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple, with Dropbox “coming soon.” Verizon is also providing telephony information, according to an earlier, related report. Yet when contacted by the Post, spokespeople for Apple and Facebook, among others, said that they had no knowledge of Operation PRISM. Some said that they do not give the government open-ended access to their servers, but rather comply with specific lawful intercept requests.

"Google cares deeply about the security of our users' data,” the Web giant told the Guardian in a statement. “We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data."

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper did cop to the program, if not the participants, noting in a statement to media that “information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats. The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”

Operation PRISM’s data collection is allowed under a foreign intelligence law that was recently renewed by Congress, in an effort very much akin to the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping program, according to the Post. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act was passed by Congress in late December.

“It cannot be used to intentionally target any US citizen, any other US person, or anyone located within the United States,” Clapper added.

The ACLU begs to differ. In a blog post highlighting concerning language in a now not-so-top-secret document about Verizon’s involvement, it alleged that “the US government is regularly tracking the phone calls of potentially millions of Americans. ACLU attorneys have been monitoring the US government’s use of the Patriot Act for years, and this document confirms our biggest fears.”

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