Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why The National Security Agency’s PRISM Program Is Nothing To Fear — Yet


It has been revealed that the National Security Agency has been employing PRISM, a $20-million-per-year program that monitors the movement of individuals through digital data, for roughly six years. PRISM has gained access to private information and online correspondence through nine technology companies here in the U.S. The USA PATRIOT Act and the Protect America Act of 2007 (PAA) opened the door for this surveillance program to take shape.

President Obama and the NSA have been criticized for a lack of transparency and the program’s assumed targeting of American citizens. The president said during a press conference on Friday that PRISM does not target American citizens or those living in the U.S., stating, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls” and “They are not looking at people’s names and they are not looking at content.” The surveillance program was structured to exclusively monitor correspondence between foreign individuals—solely the lines of communication between these individuals that pass through the U.S.

PRISM may not be the top-secret program of government overreach that many are trying to portray it as. The program is lawful (as long as American citizens and individuals in the U.S. are not monitored) under PAA, and for six years the entire program was fully recognized by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The NSA still must have a reasonable cause for intercepting communications, appeal to a federal court and gain permission to monitor any correspondence—all of which include Congressional oversight.

The NSA recently declassified a slideshow that outlines PRISM on a very basic level. This is what is currently known about the surveillance program: There were a total of nine technology companies included in PRISM—Microsoft in September, 2007, Yahoo in March, 2008, Google, Facebook, and PalTalk in 2009, YouTube in September, 2010, Skype and AOL in early 2011, and Apple in October of 2012.

While officials from AOL, PalTalk, Facebook, Yahoo, and Apple have all denied any knowledge of PRISM or working with the U.S. government on such a program, the NSA would still be within legal parameters if they monitored any data from these companies with a court order.

According to the PRISM slideshow, the types of materials they seek are email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP (phone calls made over the internet), file transfers, video conferencing, log-ins, time stamps, and any information provided on social networking sites.

The NSA slideshow makes three points defining the necessity of such a program: “Much of the world’s communications flow through the U.S.,” “A target’s phone call, email or chat will take the cheapest path, not the physically most direct path—you can’t always predict the path,” and “Your target’s communications could easily be flowing into and through the U.S.”

Basically, what we’ve learned about the NSA and PRISM is nothing new. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said of PRISM, “Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this, and to my knowledge we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information.” In other words, these actions have been lawfully taking place for six years and were approved by Congress with the effortless passages of the PATRIOT Act in 2001 and the Protect America Act in 2007.

The picture that is being painted of PRISM—a secretive surveillance program that unlawfully delves into the average American’s private life—is misleading. PRISM, if carried out properly, is only used to monitor suspicious patterns of communications abroad. If individuals choose to use means of communication that are based here in the U.S., the U.S. government, with the proper court approval, is entirely within its rights to seek out information it deems necessary for national security purpose—as long as Congress continues to authorize the laws that allow such programs.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • ZincKidd

    The problem is, the data could be used for nefarious purposes in the future– jailing all dissidents, gun confiscation, punishing whistleblowers, covering up abuses, winning elections. The data has been and is being collected, and while it might not be analyzed for such purposes now, it could always be at some time in the future. Are you willing to trust your government not only now, but from now on, unconditionally?

  • daniel bostdorf

    Sorry—you must fear government surveillance and other programs given the Patriot Act and past actions by our government.

    PRISM is another example. Justifying its existence is pure propaganda.

    “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.” – “The secret of propaganda is to saturate a group of people with propagandist ideas without their even noticing it.” – Nazi-Joseph Goebbels.

    October 2001: politians pushed the patriot act through congress. Gives government access to: wiretapping, electronic surveillance, peoples medical records, everything without anyone ever doing anything wrong. Without a warrant.

    The patriot act for all intensive purposes essentially defines any form of protest as terrorism. At the republican national convention in St. Paul in 2008, 400 American citizens were arrested for protesting and dozens of reporters were arrested.

    The Nazis had secret prisons outside of the law where torture took place ie actions which took place inside were unaccounted for to the public. Dachau- Himmler officially described as “the first concentration camp for political prisoners.”

    America has secret prisons and Guantanamo Bay.

    Gestapo memo on interogation Vernehmung translated: “Enhanced interrogation techniques.” Compared to current techniques Vernehmung is tame. Vernehmung forbids waterboarding, hypothermia and several other techniques that we utilize.. Memo imposed strict limits on utilization-.But what happened in practice? History told us.

    Interrogation defended by Obama are not new. Obama’s phrase to describe torture-that-isn’t-is: “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

    These methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes.

    The punishment for them was death.

    Today: anyone who is a critic of NSA surveillance PRISM and other surveillance programs, secret prisons, and a host of other government abuses is un-american.

    Unless we restore the Bill of Rights, pre-Patriot Act, any president or future president or Government can subvert our liberties.

  • greghilbert

    It is appalling to read an article that minimizes the fact that PRISM is police-state incarnate. I understand that NM and most of its readers are Obama supporters. Perhaps unlike progressives elsewhere who see this as grounds to condemn him, readers here trust that if Obama approves of PRISM it must be okay. If that’s how you see this, imagine PRISM in the hands of a neo-con Repub. Imagine what a single govt employee or corporate contractor with access to PRISM could do with it. I take the small number of comments as a sign that most readers realize the dangers. I hope more will speak out against it.

    • I take it as a further sign of ‘head in the sand’ denial.

  • Pingback: Weekend Reader: In Spies We Trust: The Story Of Western Intelligence | PROGRESSIVE VOICES()