Intelligence officials reportedly mining data from 9 US Internet companies
Published June 06, 2013
The FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) have been tapping into leading U.S. Internet companies to pull audio, video and photographs, a former senior NSA official told Fox News.
According to the official, the program began in 2007 and is in the second phase. Metadata from the companies is used to identify suspicious individuals and the secondary search goes into content. The official told Fox News that the Utah Data Center is likely a repository for this material.
The classified program is code-named PRISM, the Washington Post reports, and has not been disclosed publicly before. Members of Congress who are aware of the program were reportedly bound by oaths of office to keep it confidential.
According to slides from an internal presentation intended for NSA senior analysts and obtained by the Washington Post, the program accounts for nearly one in seven intelligence reports.
The companies that participate knowingly in the program are Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, the Washington Post reports.
A number of the Internet companies issued statements Thursday night saying they only complied when legally bound to do so.
To be immune from lawsuits, companies like Yahoo and AOL are reportedly obliged to accept a directive from the attorney general and national intelligence director to open their service to the FBI's Data Intercept Technology Unit, which acts as a liaison between the companies and the NSA.
According to the slides, there has been “continued exponential growth in tasking to Facebook and Skype."
"With a few clicks and an affirmation that the subject is believed to be engaged in terrorism, espionage or nuclear proliferation, an analyst obtains full access to Facebook’s 'extensive search and surveillance capabilities against the variety of online social networking services,'" the Washington Post reports.
Skype can reportedly be monitored for audio when one end of a call is a conventional telephone and also can be monitored for video, chat and file transfers when users connect just by a computer. Google services that can be monitored include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, and search terms.
A spokesperson for Google says the company "cares deeply" about the security of users' data.
"We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully," the spokesperson said. "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."
"Protecting the privacy of our users and their data is a top priority for Facebook," the company's chief security officer Joe Sullivan said in a statement. "We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law."
A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company only provides customer data after receiving a legally binding order or subpoena.
"In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers," the spokesperson said. "If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it."
Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.