The NSA and FBI are "tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person's movements and contacts over time," the Washington Post reported Thursday evening. The news came just one day after the British newspaper The Guardian reported about the National Security Agency's daily collection of the telephone logs of all Verizon's U.S. customers.
The secret program, called PRISM, has been in operation since 2007, but has not been disclosed publicly before, the Post said. A career intelligence officer provided PowerPoint slides and supporting materials to the paper to expose the massive invasion of privacy. "They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type," the officer said.
The companies participating in the program include most of the big names in the telecommunications industry — Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. The program has grown out of a history of alliances between U.S. intelligence agencies and as many as 100 U.S. companies since the 1970s, the Post reports. PRISM works in conjunction with another top-secret program, called BLARNEY, which, according to the program's summary, "leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks."
PRISM allows the NSA to enter a company's data stream and extract communications by keying in "selectors" or search items. The agency is mandated by law to conduct surveillance only on foreign operations within the United States, but the selectors are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in the "foreignness" of the data it collects, meaning it could be intercepting wholly domestic communications nearly half of the time. Training materials instruct new analysts to submit accidentally collected U.S. content for a quarterly report. But the training instructions also tell the analysts that "it's nothing to worry about," the Post said.
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