Watching Ideas Even as they Get on to the Keyboard: The PRISM Story

June 8, 2013, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

You might have already read about the top secret document that suggested that the FBI and the National Security Agency are tracking data from nine leading US Internet service providers such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

The program, code-named PRISM, collects data like audio and video chats, photographs, emails and documents directly from the servers of these service providers. Interestingly, the public is not aware of this program and the law makers who knew about it were bound by oaths of office to remain silent about this.

We also heard James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, saying that the information collected under this program are very valuable and are used to protect the nation from a wide variety of threats. The disclosure of this entirely legal program could also risk the security of Americans. Although he added that the reports about PRISM have numerous inaccuracies, he has not mentioned what they are.

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On the other hand, all these tech giants have denied any kind of knowledge about the program. These Internet service providing companies have also stated that they did not allow any kind of direct government access to their servers.

Joe Sullivan, the chief security officer at Facebook, even added that when they are asked for specific data about a particular individual, they always scrutinize the request with all applicable laws and provide only the required information by law.

At the same time, Apple’s spokesman Steve Dowling said the company had never heard of PRISM and claimed that they ask for a court order if they were to provide customer data.

TwitterHowever, government officials, and the document itself, have made it clear that the NSA has promised to keep the names of its partners as a secret, because they fear that in case the details of this program would get exposed, these companies will withdraw its support for PRISM. The support and cooperation of those technology companies is essential to PRISM operations.

PRISM partners’ list are said to include almost every tech major, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube Apple and many others. Surprisingly, Twitter is absent from the list and the company has a reputation for providing an aggressive privacy policy for its customers.

Google has also denied direct government access on its servers, adding that though there are many claims that they have created a government ‘back door’ into their systems, it is a false accusation.

Microsoft has also come up with a similar statement that even if the government has such a voluntary security program to gather customer information, the company will not participate in it. Yahoo also denied the report and claimed that they takes the privacy of its users very seriously and don’t provide any access to its systems, networks or servers.

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However, according to a career intelligence officer who provided the information about PRISM to The Washington Post, the whole system is an intrusion on the privacy of an individual. He also reported that the system has horrible capabilities and can even watch your ideas form as you type.

That’s not something you need to ignore as just another statement of worry. The PRISM phenomenon is serious indeed that it calls for a debate. The companies have their concerns, the people out there too. Who would want a lens over whatever they do, after all?

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