NSA Snooping on Google, Facebook Users: Report

Dennis Faas's picture

Leaked documents claim the U.S. government has direct access to user data for some of the web's most popular services. Officials admit the program exists but insist it's only being used to targeting foreigners who may pose a threat to U.S. national security.

The documents were reportedly leaked from a National Security Agency (NSA) program called PRISM to the British newspaper The Guardian.

The documents say the program involves NSA officials gaining direct access to the servers of nine tech companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple. (Source: guardian.co.uk)

The Guardian report says these firms joined the program between September 2007 and October 2012. The documents specifically say the data collection is done with the "assistance of communications providers in the U.S."

National Security Agency Reading E-Mail Content

The program is designed for use by NSA intelligence operatives and the documents suggest it allows them to access email information, search history, and instant messaging transcripts.

The documents specifically say the National Security Agency uses the program to acquire information about suspects without having to get a court order or even make a special request to the tech firm concerned.

The revelations come just days after the same newspaper reported on leaked documents showing that a court had ordered Verizon to hand over its complete phone records to the NSA every day.

Those tech firms that are named in the document and have spoken on the issue say they were not aware of the program and have not knowingly given the NSA access to user data.

Government Admits Spy Program Exists

James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, says the PRISM program does exist but that it only targets people who are foreign citizens living outside the United States. (Source: wsj.com)

Clapper says court-approved procedures for the program not only ban the monitoring of U.S. citizens, but set down rules to "minimize" the use of collected data.

If the contents of the documents are accurate, it raises two different and rather shocking possibilities. One is that the tech firms are lying about their cooperation with the program. The other is that the NSA is able to bypass the firms' security and access servers without detection.

If the former is true, it could be a public relations disaster and possibly spark legal actions from users who think they've been misled by the companies.

If the latter is true, it would severely undermine the credibility of U.S. government complaints that other countries, such as China, are authorizing security breaches of American companies.

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