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NSA's PRISM reported to gather data from Google, Facebook, Apple and more, but all deny involvement

Posted: , by Michael H.

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NSA's PRISM reported to gather data from Google, Facebook, Apple and more, but all deny involvement
Get ready for a whole heap of news coming on the National Security Agency's PRISM program, because it looks like Verizon may have just been the tip of the iceberg. A new report from The Washington Post is saying that a number of other high profile companies all allowing the government direct access to their data, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo. Although, all of those companies have already come out to deny the allegations.

If you missed the earlier news, it turns out that back in 2007 under President Bush, the National Security Agency (NSA) set up a highly classified program code-named PRISM. The program started slowly, but has grown exponentially under President Obama since then. The claim of the Washington Post report is that a number of tech companies are allowing the US government to tap “directly into [their] central servers... extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs" that can then be used to track people. Nine companies are listed in briefing slides as being part of the program's data collection, but at least three are already pushing back against the report.

Companies

The briefing slides show companies in order of when they joined the program, starting with Microsoft on September 11, 2007, and continuing with Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk (a service that was big during the Arab Spring), YouTube, Skype, AOL, and lastly Apple. The report says that back in 2008, Congress gave the Justice Department authority to compel a reluctant company “to comply” with the program, but Apple was still able to resist being pulled in until October of last year, mostly because no one wanted the news of this program to become public. 

Of course, most of the companies named have all come out in various degrees to deny involvement, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and even Dropbox, which was named as a company that was "coming soon" to the program and not currently involved. 

NSA's PRISM reported to gather data from Google, Facebook, Apple and more, but all deny involvement

Google said it doesn't know about the program and isn't participating at all, and that it does not provide any government agency with a "back door" to company servers and user data. Google went on to tell The Next Web that it does not allow government agencies access to its servers, and has tried to be very clear that it doesn't allow the government API access and is not involved in this program or any similar program, adding in a statement:
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.

Apple has been quoted as telling CNBC:
We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers.

Facebook hasn't gone so far as to claim it doesn't know about the program, but has issued a similar statement to others, saying:
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.

Microsoft has said to in a statement:
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.

Yahoo hasn't commented directly about PRISM, but said in a statement:
Yahoo! takes users’ privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.

And, a Dropbox spokesman released a statement to The Verge, saying:
We've seen reports that Dropbox might be asked to participate in a government program called PRISM. We are not part of any such program and remain committed to protecting our users' privacy.

PRISM

Whether or not these companies do or do not give data to the government, it is fairly clear that PRISM does exist, and The Washington Post report explains more about what the program is and some on how it works. Supposedly, the NSA is capable of getting just about any data that it wants, but it does have certain criteria that must be met for the data collected. 

The aim of the NSA is not to spy on American citizens, but to gather and analyze foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence. It is this that sets apart PRISM from the Verizon call logging we heard about earlier, which is specifically targeting Americans. With PRISM, the NSA has a set of criteria used to determine that the program is at least 51% confident of an individual's "foreignness" before pulling any data from that person's logs on various services. Unfortunately, this is only for the top-level data that is pulled in, and there is a ton of "incidental" data, meaning data on anyone in a suspect's inbox, that is also collected and this often contains data on Americans. 

NSA's PRISM reported to gather data from Google, Facebook, Apple and more, but all deny involvement

While the program only has a $20 million budget, it has apparently grown to an enormous level, and is said to be the largest contributor to the President's Daily Brief. Apparently, PRISM was referenced "in 1,477 articles last year" and now accounts for "nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports", which is pretty crazy since the NSA counts the number of communications it sifts through in the trillions. And, while Facebook denies that it allows "direct access" to government agencies, the slides gathered by The Washington Post say that Facebook and Skype have become huge resources for PRISM, and once "the subject is believed to be engaged in terrorism, espionage or nuclear proliferation, an analyst obtains full access to Facebook’s 'extensive search and surveillance capabilities against the variety of online social networking services.'"

Of course, none of this actually answers the question as to what data has been gathered. We don't know how sensitive the information gathered has been, or who has been involved in the data collection. 

More undoubtedly to come

It feels silly to try putting a "conclusion" on an article like this, because this is undoubtedly just the beginning of the news that we're going to hear about PRISM, the companies involved, and what kind of data is being processed by the NSA and the FBI. From what we have learned, it sounds like the program is real, and quite large, but the question remains as to what the involvement is from various companies, and what data is being accessed. Unfortunately, right now, we're stuck in the spot where The Washington Post is claiming one thing, and almost every company named in the report has denied involvement. We may find out more in time, but we can't say for sure right now what's going on. But, we will certainly stay on top of this story and bring you the latest as it comes in. 

*Update* The Director of National Intelligence has come out saying that the report from The Washington Post, and the report by The Guardian "contain numerous inaccuracies". He has confirmed that there is data collection happening, but insists that the public's civil liberties are being protected.

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19 Comments
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posted on 06 Jun 2013, 20:32 4

1. Dr.Phil (Posts: 906; Member since: 14 Feb 2011)


What's sad is that even the people who read articles like this will still go out and vote for the politicians that put such programs in place (and I am talking about both sides of the aisle). As the Star Wars quote goes: "So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause."

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:28

5. EXkurogane (Posts: 863; Member since: 07 Mar 2013)


I dont think voting any side will make a difference, given how America's government now basically is doing whatever they want to curb terrorism.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:43 1

8. Dr.Phil (Posts: 906; Member since: 14 Feb 2011)


That is why I said the problem exists on both sides. The difference between Republicans and Democrats is like the difference between Sierra Mist and Sprite. They may seem different but deep down they have very many similarities. As long as they use fear, they can do whatever they want. At some point, people have to wake up and realize what is actually going on.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 23:35 1

12. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5739; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


Every one of the named companies are submitting to the court order(s). They would be shut down if they refused a valid court order. The difference between W and Barry is that Barry uses courts to provide a fig leaf of legitimacy.

BTW Michael, have you perhaps changed your perspective on Google's privacy policy? They may sincerely mean to keep your data private, but when faced with a court order to disclose and keep the existence of the court order itself private, they just go along with the charade.

Sorry, but that is just the way that it is. You didn't really think there was a 4th Ammendment to the US Constitution, now did you? Certainly not after DNA can be taken upon a valid arrest, eh?

posted on 07 Jun 2013, 14:17

18. madpiyal (Posts: 108; Member since: 11 Feb 2013)


Droid_X, that's the same thing I have said previously to Mr. Michel that for the sake of their survival Google will trade our private and sensitive data to govt. But he didn't believe me then but I hope he is a reasonable man and certainly will reconsider our point after this incident.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:01 2

2. PAPINYC (Posts: 2277; Member since: 30 Jul 2011)


You know, I could give a rat's a$$ if, in this case, Big Brotha' is listening!!
In fact, I hope he is listening or reading this confidential communiqué between my person and PhoneArena because, IMHO (as protected by the 1st Amendment), I think Bam-Bam is a boney toothpick with ears as big as Dumbo Will Smith impersonator who thinks he can play basketball but he really can't. If he wasn't so busy sucking up to Beyoncé and JayZ he would have more time to fight with the Tea Party (whoops, I went and said Tea Party, hope I don't get audited)!!

Take that and stuff it up your listening tube!!!!

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:04 1

3. lsutigers (Posts: 723; Member since: 08 Mar 2009)


Well the federal government has a huge surveillance system called DCSNet (FBI Digital Collection System Network). It can intercept/wiretap any phone call, landline or wireless on any carrier and/or text message at any given time. It's run by Sprint for the gov't on a dedicated fiber backbone network. Not sure if this is what the article is referring to but it sure sounds like it.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:19

4. JerzeySniper (Posts: 22; Member since: 21 Mar 2011)


This is an outrage an clearly the powers that be are turning there backs on the fundamental values of this once great proud and virtuous country.

Ultimately the blame rest on us...the average American citizen. ..we allowed these legal traitorous immortal politicians, companies and public officials to sell our rights to life liberty and pursuit of happiness to the highest bidder an bully us into a so called patriot act that allows our government that we continue to allow to destroy this country a blank check to infringe on our rights. Yes it is very true that the tree of liberty must be refreshed by the blood of tyrants and patriots from time to time. ....if we pushed back demanded those traitors be held responsible and punished an fight for our for our inalienable freedoms restored to us then I will once again feel this country has regained its balls.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:32 3

6. EXkurogane (Posts: 863; Member since: 07 Mar 2013)


The America government watched your sex tape, they know how many times you masturbate in a week, knows that you are cheating on your spouse from your message and emails, they know that you badmouthed your boss, they know what color your underwear is right now...

What i watched in movies, such as Eagle Eye, the same thing probably has been going on for years.

All i can say, good luck and god bless you guys.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:38

7. meowcenary (Posts: 187; Member since: 13 Apr 2012)


*shrugs* this does not bother me gather intel from MILGOV and the various alphabet agencies are nothing new to me. corporations have been gather data as well regarding are habits and such. it's a fact of life and face we have to live with it. no amount of changes to CIV and FED GOV would change anything. you people might want to research the neolithic revolution and how it changed H. sapien

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 21:45 1

9. EXkurogane (Posts: 863; Member since: 07 Mar 2013)


I couldnt be bothered, when someone tells me not to use this or that because your privacy is compromised. My Facebook account has pretty much almost everything set on public, except phone number. The world knows my birth date, sees what i post, sees my photos. My question is: SO WHAT? Im neither a terrorist nor have anything to hide.

On my emails, you wont see anything important or confidential either. Nothing to see in my emails i receive including those regarding online shopping sprees. In fact i wont mind my family members seeing my emails. If you bitch about privacy so much, not use the internet at all. Nothing is safe online.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 22:19 2

10. axllebeer (Posts: 265; Member since: 05 Apr 2011)


As I said in the follow up to this article, Its news like this that make me wish I could unplug from the whole system, but its hard nowadays. Nothing is safe. I know there is a need to track things like this for the sake of national security, but I have issues with it. Do I have anything to hide, no. But am I bothered that big brother is watching us all, yes.

posted on 06 Jun 2013, 22:57 2

11. jroc74 (Posts: 4720; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


This is classified Top Secret and some other stuff..highly classified. Whoever is behind this leak is in a world of trouble. Not talking about it being right or wrong...just that as a person with access to this type of info....this should have never been leaked.

Now.....look at the list of companies on there.....there cannot be any fanboy wars about this. Maybe BB fans can gloat...lol.

posted on 07 Jun 2013, 00:17

13. meowcenary (Posts: 187; Member since: 13 Apr 2012)


I don't see how this is classified information. If operators were exposed it would constitute a leak. A release on alphabet soup agencies and various intel houses conducting intel on civilians via civilian companies is nothing

posted on 07 Jun 2013, 05:26

14. madpiyal (Posts: 108; Member since: 11 Feb 2013)


So even the Americans are watched too. Few days ago I argued why we shouldn't trust Google with our private data. And my main point was we should not trust Google because it provides our private data to govt time to time. And I also said its just a matter of time when for the sake of survival they will trade in our private information to govt. which is a major violation to our privacy and freedom. Till now when Director of NSA admits they are collecting sensitive private data through PRISM, Companies like Google are simply denying that fact which is a big lie brought to you by these so called trusted companies. "We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers."-- this is how Apple are repaying their customer by telling lies in their faces (though I think you should blame Tim Cooks reign for this breach).
This is completely unethical and this kind of practices should be stopped at any cost by the rest of the world.

posted on 07 Jun 2013, 08:46

15. protozeloz (Posts: 5375; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


What's interesting is that you only mention Google in your post when Google is one of the companies involved, as you can see nearly all of the most used services around the world seem to be at it and yet you complain about Google's statement when all of them denied the information, bias too much?

posted on 07 Jun 2013, 14:11

17. madpiyal (Posts: 108; Member since: 11 Feb 2013)


I think you haven't read my full comment properly. I have also mentioned Apple. I was backing my point why we shouldn't trust Google so mentioning its name was natural. And I am always against every company( and you should also be concerned) which takes too much information than needed and stores them. But I cant blame Facebook for holding on to our data because they are not seeking it but we are deliberately giving our private data to them. But I hate the fact that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo keeps our data for their business purposes and are also inventing new ways to get more personal data from us which we normally knowingly might not have given them the permission to keep.

Being a Google fan is not a bad thing. But when a company crosses their limit even if you are a fan you should not back them, specially when it comes to your privacy and freedom.

posted on 07 Jun 2013, 08:55 1

16. Scorpion (Posts: 83; Member since: 28 Apr 2012)


All of them said that they "don't provide direct access". So they provide it indirectly as required, the end result is the same. My American freinds, did you really think that the most powerfull security appartuss in the world, wouldn't spy on their own citizens? If only because they can?

The best way to keep a secret is in your head, not in the cloud. Put your dirty photos there, NSA operators don't really care, too much work.

posted on 07 Jun 2013, 21:48 1

19. a_tumiwa (Posts: 262; Member since: 16 Mar 2012)


i will back to use Symbian phone and Linux >_

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