According to The Guardian, a British publication, the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting a lot more than phone records of Verizon customers. The Guardian reportedly obtained a leaked NSA PowerPoint presentation detailing a program run by the agency known as PRISM, which is essentially a partnership between government and industry to spy on anyone who uses popular Internet services. If this is accurate, then George Orwell's dystopian masterpiece "1984" could well be described as prophecy.
However, when disturbing privacy-related stories like these break, it's important to separate fact from fiction. With that in mind, here are five things you need to know about PRISM:
1. PRISM Grants The NSA Access To Conversations, Not Just Records
The NSA-Verizon snooping merely mined call records but not conversations, according to the court order. PRISM, on the other hand, seems to be far more ambitious, and more frightening. The documents obtained by the Guardian indicate that PRISM grants the government access to "live communications" including full emails, chat conversations, voice calls and file transfers. The next time you think you're having a one-on-one conversation with Mom over Skype or you exchange emails with your cousin who's vacationing in India, think twice.
2. Google, Apple, Skype, Facebook And Youtube Are All In On It
According to multiple reports, all of your favorite tech companies, including Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL), Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) and its subsidiaries YouTube and Facebook (Nasdaq:FB), are working with the NSA to track what you're doing, who you're talking to and much more. That's not all, though. Other companies participating in the program include Yahoo (Nasdaq:YHOO), AOL Inc. (NYSE:AOL) and Paltalk. Considering that Skype is owned by Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT), then it's safe to presume guilt by association: Redmond has been a working NSA partner in the PRISM program as well.
3. PRISM Began Under President Bush ...
The PRISM program allegedly started in 2007. It looks like the Patriot Act, signed way back in 2001 after 9/11, was just the beginning. Microsoft first began collaborating with the NSA in December of 2007, with Yahoo joining in 2008; Google, Facebook and Paltalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple in 2012.
4. ... And It Has Continued Under President Obama
While it's still fashionable to bash the Bush Administration, let's be fair: Check out the above enrollment years for the megafirms that are collaborating with the NSA. The Obama administration is just as guilty as its predecessor when it comes to disregarding American citizens' right to privacy.
5. Dropbox May Soon Begin Collaborating With The NSA
The Guardian reports that Dropbox, the cloud storage service, may be added to the NSA's roster of data providers as well. The NSA also reportedly seeks to "expand collection services from existing providers."
What do you think of PRISM? Do you fear for your privacy? Why or why not? What measures do you take or plan to take to protect your privacy? Sound off in the comments below.
I cover video games, tech, privacy issues and more for IBT. Prior to joining the staff, I wrote for Major League Baseball, Computer Shopper and other publications. I earned...
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