There have been reports in recent days that the National Security Agency is collecting data from multiple Internet communication giants in a broad surveillance measure where the government collects e-mails, social media data, and other communications. The report has stemmed from a leak of an NSA employee’s internal presentation on the surveillance program, which the NSA named PRISM. The leaked slides claim that the NSA was receiving data from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Apple, Paltalk and others. These companies have all publicly claimed that they the NSA does not have direct access to their servers. They also claim only to provide customer data if presented with a court order. However, if reports about the surveillance program are true, all of these companies would be legally required to deny knowledge of PRISM, as it is a classified program.
A storm of media attention has followed the initial report. The vast majority of which has been negative for the NSA. Many have claimed that this is an unacceptable breach of American citizens’ right to privacy. The media has expressed concerns about the implications of this program on U.S. citizens’ Internet security and online privacy.
The government has also publicly argued in defense of the program. The U.S.’s Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper claimed that the initial report about PRISM contained “numerous inaccuracies”. He did not go into detail about what those inaccuracies were in the initial report. It makes sense that he would not go into specifics, as the NSA still means to keep the program’s details classified from public knowledge. In his official statement, he also said that the “information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect.” He also admonished the press for leaking information about the program, calling the act “reprehensible”.
President Obama answered questions about the surveillance program during a press conference. As expected, most of his answers were also vague. However, he did say that the program “does not apply to U.S. citizens”. The President explained that the NSA only collects data on foreign communications and any data collected on U.S. citizens in the process was “unintentional” surveillance. He also repeatedly emphasized that the program was under congressional oversight and the government had briefed all elected representatives.
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