National Intelligence At Heart Of Internet Data-Mining Program
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Less than a day after The Guardian released information on secret documents that showed the National Security Agency has been culling call data from Verizon customers, new documents have been revealed that paint the NSA as Internet data miners.
According to The Guardian´s new report, the NSA has been gaining direct access to Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other US Internet agencies. The secret documents reveal that the NSA data mining is part of a previously undisclosed program known as PRISM, which gives officials access to search history, email content, file transfers and even live chats.
The document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation, has been verified as authentic. The presentation indicates that the companies had direct knowledge that the NSA was mining their data and in fact assisted in the process. However, when contacted about the program, all companies denied knowledge of any such program.
According to The Guardian report, Google said: “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. 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.”
Facebook responded with: “We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”
“We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it,” according to a Microsoft statement.
A spokesman for Apple told The Guardian he had never even heard of PRISM.
NSA access to Internet files was enacted into law under the George W. Bush administration and reinforced under Obama in 2012. The law allows for the targeting of anyone who lives outside the US and visits American sites, or those Americans whose communications include anyone outside the US. It also opens the door for collecting of information from within the US without warrants.
PRISM, which has apparently been running since 2007, first began culling personal data from Microsoft´s customers. The NSA then began taking Yahoo data in 2008, followed by Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009. In 2010, YouTube was added to the mix, Skype and AOL in 2011, and tech titan Apple began being accessed in 2012. According to the documents, more companies are expected to be added to the program in the future, such as DropBox and perhaps Twitter.
Under US law, companies are legally obligated to comply with requests for data. However, the PRISM program allows the NSA direct access to servers. And, the NSA document states that PRISM has the direct “assistance of communications providers in the US.”
For the NSA, the leak is ultra-rare, as the agency has prided itself on maintaining a high degree of secrecy.
The PRISM presentation claims the program was developed to overcome the shortcomings of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants in tracking suspected foreign terrorists. While FISA had a “home-field advantage,” constraints in the laws restricted FISA to gain warrants and confirmations that both parties involved were outside the US.
“FISA was broken because it provided privacy protections to people who were not entitled to them,” the presentation claimed. “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.”
New measures have redefined “electronic surveillance” and where the NSA previously needed individual authorizations and confirmations that all parties were outside the US, now they need only reasonable suspicion that at least one of the parties was outside the country at the time the records were collected.
In the document, the NSA hails PRISM as “one of the most valuable, unique and productive accesses for NSA.”
The document also states that it has had strong growth in communications collecting. Skype has been the most accessible site, growing by 248 percent in collection rate in 2012. Facebook requests for data grew by 131 percent and Google data requests went up 63 percent.
When the NSA reviews a communication it believes demands further attention, it will issue a “report.” According to the NSA, “over 2,000 PRISM-based reports” are now issued every month. There were 24,005 in 2012, a 27 percent increase on the previous year, The Guardian reported.
In all, more than 77,000 intelligence reports have been made as part of the PRISM program.
On Thursday night James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, challenged the news reports claiming the NSA has been intercepting data for years in a wide-reaching data-mining operation.
“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans,” Clapper said in a statement, as cited by NPR.
He said the news reports from The Guardian and The Washington Post “contain numerous inaccuracies,” and that “only non-US persons outside the US are targeted.” He added that the procedures used ensure that data being acquired minimally affects US citizens.
Clapper did, however, refer to section 702 of the FISA, which he noted was recently reauthorized by Congress. Section 702 “is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-US persons located outside the United States,” he added.
“It cannot be used to intentionally target any US citizen, any other US person, or anyone located within the United States,” he said in his statement.
Clapper did not mention data mining in his statement. However, he did defend intelligence efforts by the NSA, saying: “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.”