When the UK Guardian reported on Wednesday that the Obama National Security Administration had been issued a blanket surveillance order allowing it to seize millions of Americans’ phone records, Obama defenders quickly assured Americans that the request seizures did not extend to the content of conversations. A new Washington Post report on Thursday, however, suggests that the Obama administration has the ability to do exactly that.
According to the Post, the National Security Agency and FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading US 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 program is code-named PRISM, and was leaked to the newspaper by a “career intelligence offer” who said, “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”
The program was established in 2007, and grew exponentially over the next six years. The program was so secret that Congresspeople who knew about it were bound by law from talking about it. According to information leaked to the Post, PRISM was the central intelligence source for the President’s Daily Brief, appearing some 1,477 times in the last year alone. As the Post states, “the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.”
All of the biggest technology companies in America participate in PRISM, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. Dropbox is coming next, according to reports.
While the NSA does not do blanket collection of data, it will use certain keywords designed to produce 51 percent certainty that a target is “foreign.” The Post describes this process as “not a very stringent test.”
Here’s how the program works. Internet companies are given immunity by the government in exchange for accepting on-demand “directives” from the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence to open their servers to the FBI. In 2008, Congress gave the Department of Justice the ability to force compliance after receiving an order from a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court. “[C]ollection managers in the NSA’s Special Source Operations group, which oversees the PRISM program, are drawn to the wealth of information about their subjects in online accounts,” the Post reports.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).