It appears the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance is not something only Verizon customers should be concerned about. The agency has also reportedly obtained access to the central servers of major U.S. Internet companies as part of a secret program that involves the monitoring of emails, file transfers, photos, videos, chats, and even live surveillance of search terms.
The Washington Post disclosed Thursday that it had obtained classified PowerPoint slides detailing the program, code-named PRISM, from a career intelligence officer who felt “horror” over its privacy-invading capabilities. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the source told the newspaper.
Participating in the PRISM program, according to a selection of the leaked slides, are Internet titans including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. It was established in 2007 and is used by NSA analysts to spy on Internet communications as part of the agency’s foreign intelligence-gathering work. The analysts use PRISM by keying in search terms supposedly designed to “produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s ‘foreignness.’ ” However, the Post notes, training materials for the program instruct new analysts to submit “accidentally collected” U.S. content for a quarterly report, “but it’s nothing to worry about.”
According to the Post, the system enables NSA spies to monitor Google’s Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), photo libraries, and live surveillance of searches. If agents believe a target is engaged in “terrorism, espionage or nuclear proliferation,” they can use the spy system to exploit Facebook’s “extensive search and surveillance capabilities.” And PRISM can monitor Skype, the Post notes, “when one end of the call is a conventional telephone and for any combination of ‘audio, video, chat, and file transfers’ when Skype users connect by computer alone.” In order to receive immunity from lawsuits, the participating companies 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.”
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