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By T.C. Sottek and Josh Kopstein Since September 11th, 2001, the United States government has dramatically increased the ability of its intelligence agencies to collect and investigate information on both foreign subjects and US citizens. Some of these surveillance programs, including a secret program called PRISM, capture the private data of citizens who are not suspected of any connection to terrorism or any wrongdoing. In June, a private contractor working for Booz Allen Hamilton leaked classified presentation slides that detailed the existence and the operations of PRISM: a mechanism that allows the government to collect user data from companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and others. While much of the program — and the rest of the NSA’s surveillance efforts — are still shrouded in secrecy, more details are coming to light as the public, as well as its advocates and representatives, pressure the government to come clean about domestic spying.
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The US government insists that it is only allowed to collect data when given permission by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (http://www. The Guardian and The Washington Post published reports based on the leaked slides. Clapper downplays the scandal. and others.theverge. Google. On June 6th. What the hell is PRISM? PRISM is a tool used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect private electronic data belonging to users of major internet services like Gmail.theverge. Classified presentation slides detailing aspects of PRISM were leaked by a former NSA contractor. PalTalk. spokespeople representing the companies deny involvement in the program. Apple. PRISM is considered a highly classified program that allows the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to retrieve data directly from Microsoft. Yahoo. the implicated companies have vehemently denied knowledge of and participation in PRISM. critics are concerned about the extent of the program and whether it violates the constitutional rights of US citizens. the US national intelligence director. As The Washington Post reported.theverge. release multiple statements regarding the leak. Apple. In the days since the leak. Because there are few technical details about how PRISM operates.theverge. asking the public to simply trust that the agency respects civil liberties. which began under President Bush with the Patriot Act. US national intelligence director responds: (http://www. let alone knowledge of it. but the basic idea is that it allows the NSA to request data on specific people from major technology companies like Google. UK Government allegedly involved in PRISM: (http://www.com/2013/7/17/4517480/nsa-spying-prism-surveill. Google.Everything you need to know about PRISM | The Verge PRISM is revealed in leaked slides: (http://www. There’s a lot we still don’t know about how PRISM works. It’s the latest evolution of the US government’s post-9/11 electronic surveillance efforts. Companies deny knowledge and participation in PRISM: (http://www. Both the companies and the government insist that data is only collected with court approval and for specific targets. AOL. Facebook. James Clapper. Skype. Both publications say that according to the slides. Yahoo.theverge.theverge. and others. and expanded to include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) enacted in 2006 and 2007. and others. and Apple. YouTube. Outlook.com/2013/6/6/4404112/nsa-prism-surveillance-applefacebook-google-respond/in/4167369) and have rejected allegations that the US government is able to directly tap into their users’ data. http://www. Facebook. PRISM is said to merely be a streamlined system — varying between companies — that allows them to expedite court-approved data collection requests. and because of the fact that the FISA court operates in secret..com /2013/6/6/4403868/nsa-fbimine-data-apple-googlefacebook-microsoft-othersprism/in/4167369) The Washington Post and The Guardian obtain a leaked 41-slide security presentation. and others. and that the UK’s Government 2 of 10 1/23/2014 3:46 AM . Facebook. Microsoft. Facebook.com /2013/6/6/4404670/us-directorof-national-intelligencedefends-nsa-fbi-surveillanceprism/in/4167369) Following the outbreak of the PRISM story. which state that the NSA has “direct access” to the servers of Google.com /2013/6/6/4404112/nsa-prismsurveillance-apple-facebookgoogle-respond/in/4167369) While the Post and the Guardian allege based on the leak that the NSA had direct access to the servers of Microsoft..com /2013/6/7/4405906 /uk-government-is-allegedlyinvolved-in-us-internet-spyingprogram/in/4167369) The Guardian reports that the UK government is also involved in the PRISM program.
The Protect America Act of 2007 led to the creation of a secret NSA program called US-984XN — also known as PRISM. tells Congress that “over 50” terrorist plots were stopped by surveillance efforts since 9/11. As the Post reports. 29-year-old Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Edward Snowden. As The Washington Post reported. General Keith Alexander. He describes himself as a whistleblower. under President George W. and in refuge in Hong Kong. President Obama responds: (http://www.theverge.com /2013/6/7/4406416/presidentobama-on-nsa-spyingcongress-has-known-aboutit-and/in/4167369) The president attempts to deflect outrage about the PRISM program. Government defends surveillance programs: NSA director.” The Protect America Act allows the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to explain in a classified document how the US will collect intelligence on foreigners overseas each year. The program is said to be a streamlined version of the same surveillance practices that the US was conducting in the years following 9/11. the NSA can require companies like Google and Facebook to send data to the government. Meanwhile.theverge.com /2013/6/11/4419006/senatebill-would-declassifyfisc-orders-for-nsasurveillance) Amid mounting public concern. President Obama defends the 3 of 10 1/23/2014 3:46 AM . claiming that Congress has known about it and approve it for years. a bipartisan group of eight US senators announce a bill to declassify the court opinions that allow the NSA to conduct PRISM surveillance. says he does not expect to see home again. but does not require specific targets or places to be named. Whistleblower reveals himself: (http://www. Public pressure results in action from Congress: (http://www.theverge. as long as the requests meet the classified plan’s criteria.. widespread media reports. Bush’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program. and interest from lawmakers in the leak..Everything you need to know about PRISM | The Verge Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been able to view private internet user-data since 2010 under the NSA’s program. reveals himself. once the plan is approved by a federal judge in a secret order. as well as the phone records program that leaked days before PRISM went public.com/2013/7/17/4517480/nsa-spying-prism-surveill. http://www.theverge. but says he welcomes debate.com /2013/6/9/4412080/edwardsnowden-comes-out-asnsa-whistleblower-i-dontwant-to-live-in/in/4167369) The man responsible for the leak.
but reveal a broad set of circumstances where Americans’ communications can be retained. whistleblower Edward Snowden flees Hong assistance of WikiLeaks. confessed responsibility for leaking the PRISM documents. three days after reports on PRISM were published.theverge. CIA.theverge. http://www. The documents show how the agency tries to avoid US citizens. and has requested asylum in Ecuador. Edward Snowden.” and claimed he was motivated by civic duty to leak classified information. Snowden said. Snowden fled Hong Kong for Moscow.com /2013/6/20/4449738/leakeddocuments-reveal-the-nsastop-secret-rulesfor-warrantless-surveillance) The NSA’s long sought-after guidelines for targeted surveillance seem to refute Obama’s claims that PRISM “does not apply” to Americans. but offers no new information about PRISM. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things. a 29-year-old intelligence contractor formerly employed by the NSA.theverge.com /2013/7/17/4531504/edwardsnowdens-asylumapplications-are-pilingup-but-hes-still-in-a) After the US filed charges against him and stepped up efforts to pressure Hong Kong to extradite him. and other countries.com/2013/7/17/4517480/nsa-spying-prism-surveill. in an interview with The Guardian. He is still residing in a Moscow airport.. NSA’s targeting and “minimization” procedures leaked (http://www. waiting to be granted asylum.. Russia. taking refuge in Hong Kong — where he stayed until June 23rd. Snowden left the United States prior to leaking the documents in order to avoid capture. and Booz Allen Hamilton. He revealed himself on June 9th. With the Edward Snowden flees Hong Kong seeking asylum: (http://www. 4 of 10 1/23/2014 3:46 AM .Everything you need to know about PRISM | The Verge NSA’s program in an interview on the Charlie Rose program.
(http://www. these can be split into two categories: “upstream” wiretaps. Because of a decades-old law (http://www.com /2013/7/17/4531504/edwardsnowdens-asylum-applicationsare-piling-up-but-hes-still-in-a) http://www.theverge. or voice chats. Metadata is the sensitive byproduct of communications. text. metadata is also far less well-protected than content in the US. and durations of calls. the communications collected by PRISM include the contents of emails. One of the slides in the leaked PRISM presentation instructs that analysts “should use both” of these sources.com/2013/7/17/4517480/nsa-spying-prism-surveill.” The new slides also directly refer to real-time monitoring of email. Broadly speaking. US officials have tried to allay fears about the NSA’s indiscriminate metadata collection by pointing out that it doesn’t reveal the contents of conversations. A leaked court order provided by Snowden showed that Verizon is handing over 5 of 10 1/23/2014 3:46 AM .theverge. Nationwide protests in the United States: “Restore the Fourth” rallies take place across the US on the 4th of July. and more. geolocation data (IP addresses). and web search histories. New PRISM slides revealed: New PRISM slides revealed by The Washington Post suggest that PRISM has over 100. chats.Everything you need to know about PRISM | The Verge Kong. Snowden flew to a Moscow airport where he continues to live awaiting asylum. With the help of WikiLeaks. VoIP calls. the disclosures have shed light on a vast array of NSA surveillance programs. and efforts like PRISM. protesting NSA spying. which pull data directly from undersea telecommunications cables. While PRISM has been the most talked-about story to come out of Snowden’s leaks. such as phone records that reveal the participants. which acquire communications from US service providers.theverge. and the Post says these refer to “active surveillance targets.. But metadata can be just as revealing as content — internet metadata includes information such as email logs. times.com/policy/2013/3/11/4088842 /electronic-communications-privacy-act-modernization-reform) . NSA programs collect two kinds of data: metadata and content.. cloud-stored files.000 records.
but has since been discontinued and replaced with a host of similar programs with names like “EvilOlive” and “ShellTrumpet... The program was continued for two years under the Obama administration." which was first revealed by NSA whistleblower William Binney.” 6 of 10 1/23/2014 3:46 AM . the calling records and telephony metadata of all its customers to the NSA on an “ongoing.” Mass collection of internet metadata began under a Bush-era program called "Stellarwind. daily basis.com/2013/7/17/4517480/nsa-spying-prism-surveill.theverge.Everything you need to know about PRISM | The Verge http://www.
According to The Washington Post. or is about to be committed. known as SIGADs (Signals Intelligence Activity Designators). and individual warrants for specific targets are not required. surveillance programs rely on two key statutes. which then “tasks” information from other collection sites.Everything you need to know about PRISM | The Verge http://www.theverge. Many crucial details on how and under what circumstances the NSA collects data are still missing. multiple reports and leaked documents indicate the statutes have been interpreted in secret by the FISA intelligence courts to grant much broader authority than they were originally written to allow. and their contacts’ contacts — can easily cause innocent parties to be caught up in the process.com/2013/7/17/4517480/nsa-spying-prism-surveill. The former authorizes the collection of communications content under PRISM and other programs. Leaked documents show that under the agency’s targeting and “minimization” rules. If communications are encrypted. SIGADs have both classified and unclassified code names. the NSA’s “contact chaining” practices — whereby an analyst collects records on a target’s contacts. they can be kept indefinitely. while the latter authorizes the collection of metadata from phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T. But even then. Legally speaking. these “inadvertently acquired” communications can still be retained and analyzed for up to five years — and even given to the FBI or CIA — under a broad set of circumstances. NSA analysts can not specifically target someone “reasonably believed” to be a US person communicating on US soil.” but even if they are not relevant to terrorism or national security. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) and Section 215 of the Patriot Act.. is being. However.. They also indicate that the FISA courts only approve the NSA’s collection procedures. Those include communications that are "reasonably believed to contain evidence of a crime that has been." or that contain information relevant to arms proliferation or cybersecurity. 7 of 10 1/23/2014 3:46 AM . while others like MARINA store internet metadata. An analyst starts by inputting “selectors” (search terms) into a system like PRISM. and are tasked for different types of data — one called NUCLEON gathers the contents of phone conversations. The rules state the analyst must take steps to remove data that is determined to be from “US persons. an analyst must have at least “51 percent” certainty their target is foreign.
Google. a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a bill that aims to rein in the problematic legal provisions that give US intelligence agencies nearly unfettered authority to conduct warrantless surveillance on domestic and foreign communications. Congress. While outspoken supporters of NSA surveillance in Congress and the White House —including President Obama — have defended the legality and necessity of the programs.” in which the NSA scoops up all telephone records handled by Verizon. focusing on electronic privacy. Illustrations/Charts by Dylan C.. The companies at the heart of PRISM’s controversy are also acting out. Several other lawmakers have introduced their own measures. but the government hasn’t responded to the allegations in court yet.com/2013/7/17/4517480/nsa-spying-prism-surveill. Separate suits brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union are also in the works. and Sprint in the US. there’s the group of people most affected by PRISM and its sibling programs: the American public. and the Obama administration in controversy. Lathrop. Yahoo. 8 of 10 1/23/2014 3:46 AM . AT&T. It’s not clear if public outrage will result in reform.propublica. but the specific details regarding their involvement in government surveillance on US citizens is still unclear. but thanks to the dramatic actions of a young intelligence contractor. a diverse coalition of interest groups and private organizations are directly challenging some of the NSA’s surveillance programs in court.. a broad coalition of plaintiffs sued the US government for “an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance. In an impassioned plea made by Microsoft on July 16th. In June. we now at least have the opportunity to discuss what the US government has been hiding from the public in the name of national security. and others have stepped up pressure on the government in the past month to declassify the process which compels them to hand over user data to the government. Microsoft. the company’s general counsel Brad Smith said: “We believe the US constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public. On July 4th.org/graphics/surveillance-suits) On July 16th. some US lawmakers are pushing back.Everything you need to know about PRISM | The Verge http://www. Meanwhile.” Finally. yet the government is stopping us.theverge. a widespread international public debate about the United States government’s surveillance and spying programs has engulfed the NSA. “Restore the Fourth” rallies in more than 100 US cities protested the government’s surveillance programs. (https://projects. but legislative reform is still in early stages. In the weeks since the PRISM documents leaked.
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