The leak of a new top-secret document reveals that the National Security Agency has direct access to servers and systems of major tech companies including Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft. The document, leaked by the Guardian, details a government program known as PRISM that allows NSA agents to directly monitor photos, videos, emails and other personal documents in order to track users across multiple online networks.
According to the Guardian, knowledge of PRISM comes courtesy of a leaked 41-slide PowerPoint presentation, which was classified top secret with no distribution to foreign allies by the government. The presentation, which appears to be a training manual of sorts, alleges that PRISM is capable of “collection directly from the servers” of major tech companies. Everything from photos and chat records to file transfers and login times are covered under PRISM’s collection abilities.
The PowerPoint details the major companies participating in PRISM as well as the dates they joined the program. PRISM began operating with Microsoft in 2007, adding Yahoo in 2008, and Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009. YouTube joined PRISM in 2010, Skype and AOL joined in 2001 and Apple most recently joined the endeavor, in October 2012. The program also hopes to add Dropbox soon. PRISM is supposedly run with the full cooperation of those companies and is estimated to cost about $20 million per year.
As of press time, none of the tech companies named in the document have acknowledged the existence of PRISM when contacted by the Guardian or other media sources.
"Google cares deeply about the security of our users' data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully,” a Google spokesperson told the Guardian. “From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data."
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Similarly, representatives from Apple deny any knowledge about PRISM or any kind of government program with access to its severs and files.
"We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers,” an Apple spokesman told CNBC.
Microsoft and Yahoo also denied involvement in the PRISM program, stating that they only comply with specific requests from the government and do not allow direct access to their servers.
So far, only four slides from the 41-slide presentation have been released publicly. View them all here.
According to the PowerPoint, PRISM is intended for tracking suspected foreign terrorists. The NSA supposedly found that obtaining warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were too stifling, so it created PRISM as an alternate method of obtaining mass quantities of information.
"Fisa was broken because it provided privacy protections to people who were not entitled to them," the presentation reads. "It took a Fisa court order to collect on foreigners overseas who were communicating with other foreigners overseas simply because the government was collecting off a wire in the United States. There were too many email accounts to be practical to seek Fisas for all."
Through PRISM is designed only to monitor foreign individuals, the Washington Post reports that American citizens could find themselves under PRISM surveillance if an algorithm suggests a 51 percent possibility that a citizen is foreign. The Post notes that content from the United States appears in PRISM’s databases from time to time, but is brushed off as “nothing to worry about” in the PowerPoint.
The news of PRISM’s possible direct access to tech companies’ servers comes only one day after the NSA was revealed to have access to all of Verizon’s American phone records.