Monday, June 10, 2013

U.S. mining data from Internet ‘partners’

Has your online communication fallen under government surveillance? The Washington Post and the Guardian reported Thursday that the U.S. government is collecting data from top U.S. service providers -- Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

Through a program that is code-named PRISM, the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the GCHQ (Britain’s equivalent of the NSA) ARE extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs directly from these Internet companies’ servers.

As reported by Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras:
“The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.”
For the Washington Post, Hayley Tsukayama related that users have reacted with outrage, in spite of denials by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook that they granted the government access to their servers.
“It’s hard to capture all of the reactions out there, but let’s just say words like ‘disgusting,’ ‘big brother’ and ‘outrageous’ are some of the most common phrases cropping up across the Web. Even those who expected to hear news like this someday seem disappointed.”
Among U.S. Internet companies having to deal with the fallout, Twitter has emerged from the controversy with a reputation for user privacy as reported by Rachel Weiner for the Washington Post. She highlights Twitter’s absence from the “private sector partners” in Gellman and Poitras’ report.

As reported by Gellman and Poitras, Oregon senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “repeatedly asked the NSA to estimate the number of Americans whose communications had been incidentally collected.”

Wyden and Colorado senator Mark Udall had classified knowledge of the program but were unable to speak of it. Wyden and Udall warned during a Dec. 27, 2012 floor debate that the “the FISA Amendments Act had what both of them called a ‘back-door search loophole’ for the content of innocent Americans who were swept up in a search for someone else.”

Tech specialist Edward Snowden identified himself Sunday as the principal source of the disclosure. As related by Gellman, Aaron Blake and Greg Miller, “Snowden said he is seeking ‘asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy.’”

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