It’s worse than we thought. While many of us feel that the Patriot Act ought to be repealed, not everybody suspected it would be used to monitor phone calls. The National Security Agency’s access to the internet is even worse, more pernicious, and farther reaching. Their PRISM program gives them access to the servers of Google, Apple, and Facebook, and not just “metadata,” such as times of contact or locations – as if that weren’t enough – but just about everything, the contents of emails, the videos of Skype, chat logs, the whole thing, in their hands, to be used at their discretion.
This is possible under Obama’s renewal of Bush’s Patriot Act as of December 2012. It appears that the NSA’s use of this program does not even require compliance from places like Google and Apple who deny they know of the program.
Google said in a statement, reported by the Guardian, “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. 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.”
Nevertheless, it seems these internet companies are in fact part of the information sharing program. Microsoft, albeit having a current advertising slogan “Your privacy is our priority,” was the first to participate beginning in December 2007, when the program began. The Guardian reports that Yahoo followed in 2008; Google, Facebook, and Paltalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and Apple in 2012.
The companies are legally compelled to cooperate, but the surveillance does not necessarily require their cooperation. The sorts of information the NSA can share, as explained in a top-secret document the Guardian received, include email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats such as Skype, file transfers, etc.
The NSA claims the program is not being used on American citizens, but foreign citizens, who are not protected under our rights. Nevertheless, only one of the persons communicating needs be foreign, and further, they have re-stipulated their legislation so that anyone who is “reasonably believed” to be outside the USA can be watched.
Senator Christopher Coons said the secrecy of the program might lend itself to abuse, lacking safeguards on how it is working.
“The problem is: we here in the Senate and the citizens we represent don’t know how well any of these safeguards actually work,” he said.
“The law doesn’t forbid purely domestic information from being collected. We know that at least one Fisa court has ruled that the surveillance program violated the law. Why? Those who know can’t say and average Americans can’t know.”