Government Defends NSA Program that Collects Phone Data

According to a secret document obtained by The Washington Post, the National Security Agency and the FBI are accessing the central servers of nine U.S. Internet companies through a program code-named PRISM. The agencies are reportedly tracking chats, images, emails, documents and connection logs that assist analysts in identifying foreign threats. The federal government defends the program, while some civil liberties proponents are skeptical.

“The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers,” reports The Washington Post. “But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.”

According to the document, the NSA is collecting information from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

PRISM was launched during the era of the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, “which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection,” explains the article.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said in a statement, “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.”

Clapper also suggested that there were numerous inaccuracies regarding PRISM reported by The Washington Post and The Guardian.

Additionally, several companies told The Washington Post they did not have knowledge of the program.

“We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers,” said Joe Sullivan, chief security officer for Facebook. “When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”

“We have never heard of PRISM,” said Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple. “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo issued similar statements.

“As it is written, there is nothing to prohibit the intelligence community from searching through a pile of communications, which may have been incidentally or accidentally collected without a warrant, to deliberately search for the phone calls or emails of specific Americans,” said Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado).

“The Obama administration points to ongoing safeguards in the form of ‘extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons,'” explains the article.

Related News:
Jim Sensenbrenner: NSA Violated Law, Politico, 6/6/13
NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily, The Guardian, 6/5/13
Will Users Outside the US Disconnect their Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft and Apple Accounts Now?, Quartz, 6/6/13
Why DOJ Didn’t Need a Super Search Warrant to Snoop on Fox News’ Email, Awaissoft, 5/26/13
Here’s What Europe’s Net Neutrality Law Would Look Like, GigaOM, 6/4/13
A Ruling Could Support FCC’s Net Neutrality Defense, The New York Times, 5/20/13