The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are tapping directly into the servers of nine major Internet companies to track and collect information on large swaths of American citizens and domestic foreigners, according to a breaking report by The Washington Post.
The companies, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, PalTalk (a messaging service used to communicate in the Syrian civil war), AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple are apparently actively granting the two federal agencies access to customer data.
The system goes by the name PRISM, and allows NSA and FBI analysts to tailor searches to key selectors - search terms, essentially - to produce a percentage of how foreign a target could be. Analysts can only collect data on a target if the target reaches a perceived 51 percent foreignness rating. That threshold of "foreignness," The Post reports, is apparently low.
That accessible data ranges from audio and photos to video chats, emails, documents and connection logs. The system apparently allows agents to sit in on live searches on Google and poke through a user's entire profile on Facebook. PRISIM can basically track, watch and analyze anything you do online at any time so long you meet the foreignness requirement.
Or, more likely, know and have communicated with a target.
A person doesn't have to have direct communication with a target to be searched by FBI and NSA agents, according to The Post. If a friend communicates with a target and separately communicates with you, your data can also be collected and culled for information by agents investigating the initial target.
PRISM start in 2007 after the Bush administration publicly lost its ability to conduct domestic warrantless wiretaps. In the six years since then, the service has rapidly grown, quickly become the NSA's number one raw intelligence source for analysis. All told, PRISM has generated 77,000 searches, according to The Guardian, which also broke news of NSA access to Verizon customer data eariler on Thursday.
As a term of the agreement, The Post reports, the involved companies are apparently protected from any lawsuits concerning access to the data.
Apple, Facebook, Google and others deny granting the federal agencies any privileged access to their servers, and claim to never have heard of PRISM.