The NSA and the FBI are mining the user data of nine major Internet companies, an expose by The Washington Post revealed Thursday evening.
The previously undisclosed program — called PRISM — allows intelligence analysts to directly tap the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.
The audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs of users are all available to be extracted and analyzed by intelligence analysts.
The names of the companies appear in the order of when they joined the “court-approved” program, which began in 2007. Dropbox is reportedly “coming soon.”
98 percent of PRISM’s product is derived from intelligence gathered from Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google.
“In exchange for immunity from lawsuits, companies such as Yahoo and AOL are obliged to accept a “directive” from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to open their servers to the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit, which handles liaison to U.S. companies from the NSA,” wrote The Washington Post.
“In 2008,” the newspaper continued, “Congress gave the Justice Department authority for a secret order from the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court to compel a reluctant company “to comply.”
The companies that responded to the Post’s requests for comment — including Google, Facebook and Apple — denied any participation in PRISM.
The government’s 41-slide PowerPoint presentation — dated April 2013 — and supporting materials describing the program were provided to The Washington Post by a career intelligence officer looking to expose a “gross intrusion of privacy.”
“They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said to The Washington Post.
Intelligence analysts are able to query the servers of the participating companies using “selectors” to determine with 51 percent confidence a target’s “foreignness.”
Information accidentally collected about innocent Americans by analysts is considered “incidental” and “nothing to worry about.”
PRISM is not a new thing for the government, despite the involvement of fairly modern technology.
“PRISM is an heir, in one sense, to a history of intelligence alliances with as many as 100 trusted U.S. companies since the 1970s,” wrote The Washington Post. These alliances are called Special Source Operations.
“PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority,” wrote The Washington Post.
A parallel program to PRISM described in The Washington Post expose called BLARNEY collects “metadata” — address packets, device signatures and the like — as it streams past choke points along the backbone of the Internet.”
This type of effort by the NSA was first exposed when former AT&T technician Mark Klein went public about his knowledge of a secret room at a San Franciscio AT&T facility that intercepted all Internet traffic.
The Washington Post expose comes directly on the heels of a separate report by The Guardian, which revealed late Tuesday evening that Verizon was being secretly ordered on an ongoing basis to hand over the phone data of all communications inside the U.S.
The phone data includes phone numbers, when the call was made and for how long the call took place.
Randy Milch, Verizon’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, would not confirm the accuracy of The Guardian’s report, but said that if such an order were issued to Verizon, the company would be “required to comply.”
California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein affirmed that the court order was a routine three month renewal of a secret program that has been ongoing since the previous administration.
The NSA and the FBI both declined The Daily Caller’s request for comment.