Leaked Surveillance Programs Reveal Large-Scale Data Collection
By Michelle Sohn – Edited by Katie Mullen
Last week, the Guardian revealed two top-secret U.S. programs—Verizon metadata collection and PRISM—that allow the National Security Agency (“NSA”) to conduct domestic surveillance on a massive and unprecedented scale. The first program was conducted with an order from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court order required Verizon to provide the NSA with all “telephony metadata” created by Verizon for communications within the U.S. as well as between the U.S. and abroad. The order specified a three month period, but could have been one of several similar orders. Metadata includes the phone numbers, location, and duration of Verizon users’ calls, but not the actual content of conversations. The order also prohibited Verizon from disclosing any information about this program or the order’s existence. The second program, PRISM, allows the government direct access to participating companies’ servers. A wide range of data can be culled from the servers, including email, video and voice chat, and file transfers. Major companies allegedly participating in Prism include Yahoo, Facebook, Skype, and Google. Spokespersons from these companies have denied participation. PRISM can target user communications outside the U.S. and communications involving people outside the U.S.
NPR summarized an interview on the two surveillance programs with former NSA director, General Michael Hayden, who largely praised the program as “an accurate reflection of balancing our security and our privacy.” The New Yorker criticized the court-ordered metadata collection program, declaring, “The problem, then, is not just secrecy, but meta-secrecy. The government let the public think that certain words mean one thing, while operating on the idea that they mean another.” Congress has initiated new oversight proceedings on the programs. (more…)