US intelligence mines data from nine internet giants, including Google and Facebook

7 Jun 2013

Just a day after reports surfaced that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US interpreted the Patriot Act in such a way as to seek phone records of millions of US citizens from Verizon it is now being claimed that the NSA and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading internet companies.

The Washington Post reported that a software program code-named PRISM, until now a closely guarded secret, collects information directly from the servers of technology giants including Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

The program is understood to be a legacy of the Bush Administration and emerged after the Protect America Act of 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 which immunised private companies that cooperated voluntarily with US intelligence agencies.

PRISM focuses on foreign communications that flows through US servers and its purpose is to catch evidence of terrorism or espionage and classified orders effectively give the intelligence agencies the power to monitor this traffic without a warrant.

The program is understood to facilitate extensive in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information and the legislation allows for the targeting of customers of “participating” firms that live outside the US or communicate with people outside the US.

The powers are understood to have been renewed by the Obama Administration in December 2012.

The news comes after it was claimed that Verizon was issued with a request from the NSA for access to call information on millions of US citizens. News of the request prompted outrage among groups such as the EFF who claimed that such powers have existed for years.

The various technology companies deny any knowledge of PRISM and have alleged the intelligence agencies may be accessing the data without their knowledge.

“Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data,” the search giant said in a statement quoted in The Guardian.

“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.”

Cyber spy image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years