The NSA’s PRISM program collects information directly from the United States’ technology companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and many more.

The program claims the ability to collect data “directly from the servers” of large technology companies (Greenwald and MacAskill 2013). Although aimed towards users outside of the United States, Americans may also be surveilled if they communicate with people outside of the country. Since PRISM was originally intended as a foreign surveillance tool, it was authorized using FISA.

The program gives the NSA the capability to collect data on anyone using the service of a company they’re monitoring. Companies known to be participating in these programs include Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Skype, and Apple, to name a few. A slide of the program, leaked by Edward Snowden, shows the program’s capability to collect emails, videos, photos, voice over IP (VoIP, which many cell phone manufacturers now offer as an alternative to cell networked phone calls), and even “special requests” (ibid).

A diagram of PRISM's collection functionality
A diagram of PRISM's collection functionality. [1]

This program allows the NSA direct access to a company’s server, breaking away from the norm of obtaining a warrant and asking the company for a specific dataset. Both Apple and Google denied the government’s access to their servers, which is either true and the government is accessing servers without the companies’ knowledge or it is a lie told to conform with Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Either way, the leaked slides from the NSA boast direct access to both of those companies’ servers.

Edward Snowden talking about the NSA's PRISM program. [2]

# Sources

  1. Greenwald, Glenn, and Ewen MacAskill. “NSA Prism Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google and Others.” The Guardian, June 7, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data (opens new window).
  2. Edward Snowden: PRISM not just about metadata. CBS News, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRYMgZvbxm4 (opens new window).