Yesterday, it was revealed that a secret court order initiated by the FBI strong-armed Verizon into handing over detailed phone records of millions of US consumers to the NSA. Such an action made it obvious that other activities of a similar nature are likely taking place, something confirmed today by The Washington Post, which says it has acquired a "top-secret document" showing the NSA and FBI pulling detailed content from central servers of nine major US companies.
The revelation of the court order yesterday was followed up a very short while later with an unofficial statement from the White House that such data mining is critical for anti-terrorism purposes. The extent of the government's domestic spying hasn't stopped there, however, and is far more extensive that receiving phone records from an ISP. According to a document sent to The Washington Post, a program called PRISM details direct data mining from the servers of Apple, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and PalTalk.
Apple has taken offense to such a report, however, stating that claims it is part of such a program are false. In a statement, the company said: "We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order." It did not comment on whether it is part of a data program similar to the one used to gather data from Verizon, however.
According to The Washington Post, project PRISM is being used to provide both the FBI and the NSA with hoards of detailed and personal content. Reportedly being directly accessed on the servers includes such things as video and audio chat files, documents, connection logs, photographs, users' larger network of contacts, emails, and more. If this is true, it represents extremely extensive domestic spying against unsuspecting individuals who have not been accused of anything.
Apple isn't the only company that is saying it has not given direct access to its servers to the FBI and NSA. Facebook approached The Post saying that it does not give any government agency direct access to its servers. According to the information the Post was sent, "98-percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft; we need to make sure we don't harm these sources." Also according to the documents, DropBox is slated to begin participating in the program soon.
Thus far, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have not commented.
Update: It didn't take long for nearly all the companies accused to deny involvement.
Google, Yahoo and Dropbox all denied any involvement in any government spying activities to The Next Web. Said Google: "Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully." Yahoo followed that up a bit later with its own statement: "Yahoo! takes users’ privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network." Dropbox said: "We are not part of any such program and remain committed to protecting our users’ privacy."
Said Facebook to TNW: "We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law."
And finally, Microsoft has released its own statement on the matter: "We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it."