NSA PRISM program spied on Americans’ emails, searches

Mark Hachman
7 June, 2013
View more articles fromthe author

For the last several years, the National Security Agency in the US has been reportedly spying on the searches, emails and file transfers of Americans using a program called PRISM – which tapped directly into the servers used by Apple, Google, Microsoft and others.

The program is the latest revelation from UK newspaper The Guardian, which earlier revealed that the NSA had worked with Verizon to monitor the metadata of millions of phone calls made by Americans. The PRISM report was published as a 41-page PowerPoint document marked Top Secret, according to The Guardian’s report.

The list of companies that the paper alleges participated in the PRISM program reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley: in 2007, the document alleges, Microsoft was the first to participate. Yahoo joined in 2008. Others followed in quick succession: Google in 2009, then AOL, Apple, Facebook, PalTalk, Skype and YouTube in October 2012.

Representatives from each company could not be reached by PCWorld at the time of this report. Google denied involvement with the PRISM program in The Guardian‘s report. The program is expanding, The Guardian said. Apple did tell CNBC that it does not provide the US Government with direct access to its servers.

Update: The Guardian later on Thursday published a story that reporting, “Senior executives from the internet companies expressed surprise and shock and insisted that no direct access to servers had been offered to any government agency.”

Data that could be examined

The amount of data the NSA can access includes email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details and more, the paper reported.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the report, however, is the fact that the NSA reportedly tapped into the servers of the providers themselves – with or without their knowledge, if The Guardian’s report is true.

Google’s denial about participating in the PRISM program – reported earlier by The Guardian – means either that the NSA accessed Google’s servers surreptitiously or that the Guardian’s report is wrong.

The Guardian also reported that no court orders were needed, and that the agency could dip into the servers of Google and others both to monitor real-time communication as well as to pull out archived data.

“The presentation claims PRISM was introduced to overcome what the NSA regarded as shortcomings of FISA warrants in tracking suspected foreign terrorists,” the report said. (FISA is a controversial law critics of which claim allows for the warrantless surveillance of electronic communications such as email and phone calls, of not only foreigners but US citizens.)

The Guardian’s report also noted that the US has a “home-field advantage” due to housing much of the internet’s architecture. But the presentation claimed, “FISA constraints restricted our home-field advantage because the law required individual warrants and confirmations that both the sender and receiver of a communication were outside the US.”

by Mark Hachman, Macworld

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us