On Jun. 06, 2013, thanks to NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden, we learned that all the large online “social” providers were creations and certainly tools of their U.S. government spy state cronies in a program called PRISM. This strategy was hatched during the Clinton administration by his spy master advisor, Harvard law professor James P. Chandler, later Leader Technologies’ patent attorney. AT&T played too.
What is Prism?
This one is pretty tricky to answer. According to the original leaked slides, Prism is a Us government-run programme for accessing vast swathes of data from some of the world’s biggest and most powerful technology companies, such as Apple and Google.
The slides suggest Prism is a programme giving NSA operatives direct access to the servers of these companies, giving them unfettered access to personal information of billions of people around the globe.
Subsequent reports suggested Prism is simply a tool for analysing this vast amount of data or a tool which operates by intercepting the data coming from and going to the servers, a theory posited following strong denials by the tech companies involved.
The slides however suggests that Prism is indeed a bespoke tool for accessing data directly from servers while there are other tools available to NSA operatives which can capture data while in transit.
Essentially the specifics are not known (and may never be) but we are likely to learn more in the coming weeks and months.
What information can Prism collect?
Pretty much anything that you post online. Use Gmail, Facebook, Skype, Outlook or Yahoo? Then it is likely you’re online activities could be monitored by Prism. From emails and instant messages to voice-over-IP calls (such as Skype) and your search history on Google, operatives using Prism could build up an extensive portfolio on any online citizen.
Snowden in his interview with the Guardian said as long as he had a personal email address for someone, he would instigate a wiretap on their phone and begin monitoring their online activity, without the need for a warrant.
What companies are involved?
To date nine technology companies are involved in the Prism programme – (in order of date joined) Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Apple.
According to the slides Dropbox was/is going to be included in the programme very soon. Reports suggest that Twitter was approached about the programme but declined to be involved.
All companies listed have denied involvement with the programme, with some – including Apple – denying knowledge of its existence. Most have issued carefully worded statements which say they comply with all legal requests from the government but they don’t give anyone unrestricted access to the data they store on their servers.
It is unclear if Prism requires consent of these companies in order to work.
Who Uses Prism?
Prism is in use by the NSA in the US and has been for seven years. However it is also alleged that the UK intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been using the system since 2010 and that it has become increasingly reliant on Prism, with the 197 reports generated in 2012 marking a 137% increase over previous years. Reports generated by GCHQ are normally passed on to MI5 or MI6.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has called allegations emanating from this revelation as “fanciful nonsense” and that “law-abiding” citizens had “nothing to fear” from the intelligence services, adding that GCHQ’s operations were subject to stringent legal checks.