Although it probably doesn't come as a surprise to some people, reading about Edward Snowden, the "29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton" who went public "about PRISM, the NSA/FBI project to gather information from popular Internet services, including Facebook, Google, and Apple," is utterly fascinating. Even more amusing is the story behind Prism's logo and a look at the plethora of government organizations that use the word prism in their name.
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.
The Toronto Star explains in further depth the services affected, with "Dropbox, the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as 'coming soon.'":
"This program was recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats."
Several companies contacted by The Post, including Facebook, Google and Apple said they had no knowledge of the program and responded only to individual requests for information.
"We have never heard of PRISM," an Apple spokesman said. "We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."
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