This week's second major revelation about the Obama administration's national security programs was made by the Washington Post Thursday, when they published details of a program the government uses to collect internet data. The PRISM program collects the user data of nine major internet companies: Apple, AOL, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, YouTube and PalTalk.
The blogosphere reacted to the court approved program, discussing whether Americans should be alarmed and what the program means for national security:
Doug Mataconis of Outside the Beltway said the PRISM program appears to give the NSA freedom to access servers with or without a warrant:
Given the extent to which FISA requirements have been lessened, they now only need to have "reasonable suspicion" that one of the people they are monitoring is outside the country. At the same time, though, this program is clearly far more widespread and ambitious than their near-continuous access to phone call records from Verizon and other teleccom companies. In that case, they are seeking the "metadata" of the calls, the "who, where, and when" of the phone calls to put it in lay terms. In this case, they are going after actual content, and they can apparently access it with [ease] from the comfort of terminals at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade. At the very least, this is a massive expansion of the ability of the government to monitor the activities of virtually everyone in the country at will, whether or not the law permits them to do it.
I don't doubt that there are some powers that we need to give to law enforcement in order for it to be able to effectively protect the nation. However, there are legitimate questions about how far those powers should go, and how long they should last. The revelations over the past days have shown us how far things have come in just twelve years. At some point, we'll have to ask ourselves how much further we're willing to let it go.
Andrea Peterson at Think Progress said that although the companies named as part of the PRISM program deny allowing the government to access their servers, that doesn't mean the FBI can't:
Comparing denials from tech companies, a clear pattern emerges: Apple denied ever hearing of the program and notes they "do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers and any agency requesting customer data must get a court order;" Facebook claimed they "do not provide any government organisation with direct access to Facebook servers;" Google said it "does not have a ‘back door' for the government to access private user data"; And Yahoo said they "do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network." Most also note that they only release user information as the law compels them to.
But the PRISM program's reported access to data and the now repeatedly confirmed widespread access to phone records and other types of digital data appears to be almost exactly what the 2008 Protect America Act (PAA) allows Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts to compel tech companies to do — as many warned around the time of its passage. If tech companies are not providing direct access to their servers but are cooperating with the PRISM program, that leaves at least one other option: Companies are providing intelligence agencies with copies of their data.
Myrddin of America Blog said the importance of program can be seen in the way the information collected is often relayed directly to Obama: