Meet PRISM, the NSA’s Internet Intelligence Gathering Service
Don't worry about introducing yourself, though. PRISM already knows you quite well.
Yesterday, when it became clear that the National Security Agency was once again gathering the phone records of millions of American citizens without warrants or cause, it seemed like…oh, let’s be politic and call it “an overstep.” Turns out, we didn’t even know what an overstep was, as it has now become clear that the NSA’s phone record gathering program is far from the only questionable activity the NSA has its fingers in. Take for example the PRISM program, which collects data on Internet users — including emails, file transfer records, and voice and video chats — by tapping directly into the servers of Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, just to name a few.
If you’re wondering how the government made the legal argument that they’re entitled to this information, you’re not alone. The answer is that during the Bush administration, these massive sets of data were basically declared by the government to be “facilities” that were connected with international terrorism. In return for access to those facilities, the government agrees to periodically confirm that they’re minimizing the amount of data they collect on U.S. citizens without a warrant. Not eliminating it, you know, but minimizing it. For freedom!
This is the first time the PRISM program, which operates with the cooperation of pretty much every service you use on the Internet every day, has been revealed to the public. Unlike the phone records program, PRISM stays largely away from domestic surveillance, instead making foreign communications that make a stop on U.S. servers a priority, which I think we can safely file under ‘cold comforts.’
Speaking of cold comforts, if you’re not delighted with the idea of the government being able to peek in on your every online move, you can take a little bitter solace in the fact that they’re not happy you know about it, either. In a statement issued late in the day yesterday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told reporters:
“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.”
That’s an awfully loud protest over something that’s “entirely legal” James. And while we’re on the topic, entirely legal doesn’t always mean “right.” I mean, just so we’re clear.