James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said Saturday that the leaks surrounding the gathering of information by the intelligence community are reckless and dangerous. He said, “Disclosing information about the specific methods the government uses to collect communications can obviously give our enemies a `playbook’ of how to avoid detection.” Speaking of the data collection from Internet providers, Clapper said that the practice was approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court and that the Internet service providers were aware of it.
Clapper said that the Internet data-collecting program, code-named PRISM, which was authorized in the Patriot Act and was implemented in 2008, “has proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe. It continues to be one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s security.”
Clapper disclosed that PRISM:
- Allows the government to collect foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers with the permission of the court;
- Must have court approval and permission from the provider to retrieve information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers.
- Is after data from foreign targets.
- Can only target someone’s data if there is an “appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose” such as prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities or nuclear proliferation. The foreign target should be thought to be outside the United States. The program cannot intentionally target any U.S. citizen or someone in the U.S.
- Sharing information “incidentally intercepted” about a U.S. person is forbidden unless it is “necessary to understand foreign intelligence or assess its importance, is evidence of a crime, or indicates a threat of death or serious bodily harm.”
Meanwhile, an al-Qaeda affiliated website warned its members against using the Internet. One comment was, “Caution: Oh brothers, it is a great danger revealing PRISM, the greatest American spying project.” Another wrote, “A highly important caution for the Internet jihadis … American intelligence gets information from Facebook and Google.”
But Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., a former member of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “the bad folks’ antennas go back up and they become more cautious for a period of time. But we’ll just keep coming up with more sophisticated ways to dig into these data. It becomes a techies game, and we will try to come up with new tools to cut through the clutter.”