NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal
Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskillare are reporting that the National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.
The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.
The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation -- classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies -- which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims "collection directly from the servers" of major US service providers.
Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.
In a statement, 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."
Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of PRISM or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. "If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge," one said.
An Apple spokesman said it had "never heard" of PRISM.
The NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.
The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.
It also opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants.
Disclosure of the PRISM program follows a leak to the Guardian on Wednesday of a top-secret court order compelling telecoms provider Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of US customers.
The participation of the internet companies in PRISM will add to the debate, ignited by the Verizon revelation, about the scale of surveillance by the intelligence services. Unlike the collection of those call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the metadata.
Some of the world's largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan "Your privacy is our priority" – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.
It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.
Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.
What the NSA has is the world's largest "data warehouse." While a database provides "information." A data warehouse provides "knowledge."
The difference between a database and a data warehouse is similar to the difference between a photograph and a movie. A photograph provides great detail about a moment in time, while a movie provides great detail over a period of time.
The phone company's "Call" database contains the phone number and location of calling and called person(s). It contains call start and call end times. It also contains a pointer to the calling and called party's account.
Over time, this data yields knowledge about who the person(s) is and the person's movements (locations) and associations.
The data acquired from the "social network" and other Internet sites are electronically scanned and matched against a list of "keywords" and "key phrases." Over time, this data yields knowledge about a person's interests, politics, activities -- and more associations.
The data acquired from Amazon, eBay and others provide information about a person's purchases. Over time this data yields knowledge about a person's purchasing habits (stuff).
Using the data warehouse, the NSA knows "over time" and "at a minimum" your behavior -- your movements, family, associates, interests, politics, activities and what stuff you have or are looking for.
How's that for Big Brother?
And this is a summary. It's even more insidious than I describe.
The postal service is photographing and storing the front and back of EVERY piece of mail it processes. The NSA gets that stuff too. There's more associations.
And the NSA is also acquiring commercially available data from industry sources (retail, banking, etc.) -- and it's all being analyzed inside their humungous data warehouse 24 X 7 X 365 by the biggest and fastest computers on the planet.
The short speech is that the NSA knows everything about all of us -- and let's not forget who Team Obama views as "the enemy."
Obama's on TeeVee right now justifying this violation of constitutional privacy by saying "no one is listening to your phone calls" and "no one is reading your emails."
There goes Obama, dissembling again -- the point is -- no one has to! The NSA computers are! And he's outright lying when he says all the NSA is getting is metadata (which is technically "data about data").
But I can assure you that calling and called numbers, duration of call and location of parties are NOT metadata. That's old-fashioned data data, and using analytics the NSA can derive past and future behavior from what is being collected, stored and analyzed hierarchically.
Watching the discussion of this matter on Fox's "Special Report" it was observed that emails can be scanned, but not telephone conversations.
I'd like to remind everyone that modern telephone communications are "digital" -- just like "digital computers" -- and those "digital computer" scan and store 3 billion telephone calls every day.
If you don't get where I'm going, click here -- computers can understand the spoken word -- in real time and in any language.