NSA's PRISM, Phone Call Analysis Programs Raise Privacy Fears, Outrage

By Nathan Eddy  |  Posted 2013-06-07 Print this article Print

The worst fears of many Americans were confirmed when new reports revealed that the telecommunications companies were turning over immense volumes of domestic and foreign phone call data to the U.S. National Security Agency. Under an electronic surveillance program called PRISM, NSA analyzed this data in an effort to find patterns of activity that the agency claims provided valuable intelligence in the fight against terrorism. The existence of this NSA data analysis program was revealed when The Guardian newspaper obtained a court order that directed Verizon Communications to turn over to the NSA the "metadata" records million of callers. Call metadata includes information that can identify the devices being used to complete the call, phone numbers and other session data, including information that can be used to determine the location of the callers. The PRISM program has been around since 2007, thanks to provisions under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But slides leaked to The Washington Post and the court order obtained by The Guardian have provoked a fresh round of arguments and outrage over the practice of broadly monitoring the communications of U.S. citizens. Here's a look at the leaked slides and some of the public expressions of outrage released by human rights groups and individuals since the story broke earlier this week.

  • NSA's PRISM Phone Call Analysis Program Raises Privacy Fears, Outrage

    by Nathan Eddy
    1 - NSA's PRISM Phone Call Analysis Program Raises Privacy Fears, Outrage
  • Leak Exposes Extent of PRISM Surveillance Program

    Reports based on leaked documents describe the PRISM program as enabling in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information, which includes email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice over IP (VOIP) conversations, file transfers, log-in notifications and social networking details. Source: The Washington Post
    2 - Leak Exposes Extent of PRISM Surveillance Program
  • Big Brother Is Watching

    The NSA has collected data on the domestic calls made by millions of Americans from one telecommunications provider "on an ongoing daily basis," according to a copy of a secret court order leaked to The Guardian newspaper. Source: The Washington Post
    3 - Big Brother Is Watching
  • Major Organizations Deny Involvement

    Microsoft, Google and Apple have all denied involvement in the PRISM program, with Apple claiming they do not provide any government agency with direct access to their servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order. A Facebook statement said when the company is asked for data or information about specific individuals, it provides information only to the extent required by law. Source: The Washington Post
    4 - Major Organizations Deny Involvement
  • Timeline of Tapping

    This graph shows the annual cost of the program—$20 million per year, as well as the dates in which PRISM collection began for each provider. As noted, many of the companies identified in this document have emphatically denied any involvement in, or knowledge of, this program. A Microsoft spokesperson wrote that if the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data, the company doesn't participate in it. Source: The Washington Post
    5 - Timeline of Tapping
  • Clapper Calls Out Alleged Inaccuracies

    U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the unauthorized disclosure of information about this "important and entirely legal program" was reprehensible and risked important protections for the security of Americans. "The Guardian and The Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). They contain numerous inaccuracies," his statement read, in part.
    6 - Clapper Calls Out Alleged Inaccuracies
  • U.S. Senators Say Everything is Fine—and Legal

    Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) released a joint statement defending the analysis of the Verizon phone call data. In 2012 the pair issued a statement expressing pleasure that the FISA act had been reauthorized by the Senate, which it said included “strong privacy protections”.
    7 - U.S. Senators Say Everything is Fine—and Legal
  • A Joint Statement Attempts to Clarify

    Saxby and Feinstein's statement said FISA does not allow the government to listen in on the content of a phone call, and claimed the intelligence that has so far been collected has helped protect the nation. "The threat from terrorism remains very real and these lawful intelligence activities must continue, with the careful oversight of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government," the statement read.
    8 - A Joint Statement Attempts to Clarify
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation Expresses Outrage

    Many privacy advocacy groups were outraged by the details of the reports, with the EFF calling for a national dialogue about citizens' rights in the digital age and an end to the NSA's "unconstitutional" domestic surveillance program. "This type of untargeted, wholly domestic surveillance is exactly what EFF, and others, have been suing about for years," Cindy Cohen and Mark Rumold of the EFF wrote in a blog post.
    9 - Electronic Frontier Foundation Expresses Outrage
  • President Obama Defends Phone Call Surveillance Programs

    President Barack Obama on June 7 tells Americans "nobody is listening to your phone calls" and that the Verizon call data analysis program includes the numbers and other data about the calls but not the names associated with the numbers or the content of the call. He also noted that Congress was aware of the NSA phone call analysis program.
    10 - President Obama Defends Phone Call Surveillance Programs
  • ACLU Voices Concerns

    "The stories published over the last two days make clear that the NSA—part of the military—now has direct access to every corner of Americans' digital lives," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, said in a statement. "Unchecked government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms. These revelations are a reminder that Congress has given the executive branch far too much power to invade individual privacy, that existing civil liberties safeguards are grossly inadequate, and that powers exercised entirely in secret, without public accountability of any kind, will certainly be abused."
    11 - ACLU Voices Concerns
  • Al Gore Uses Social Media to Blast the Program

    Former Vice President Al Gore issued a strongly worded response to the programs through a typically 21st century platform—Twitter: "In (this) digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?" Gore, a champion of climate change awareness has more than 2.6 million Twitter followers.
    12 - Al Gore Uses Social Media to Blast the Program

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