Shortly after the Guardian reported that authorities were collecting phone records from millions of Verizon customers across the country, the Washington Post reported that a secret government program, PRISM, had been allowing the FBI and NSA to tap into top U.S. Internet companies to pull audio, video and other data since 2007.
According to a document about the program, the NSA uses “collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”
The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, issued a statement about PRISM on Thursday.
“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats. The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”
He also said that exposing the phone-records collection program might harm the nation's intelligence gathering activities, Fox News reported. “The article omits key information regarding how a classified intelligence collection program is used to prevent terrorist attacks and the numerous safeguards that protect privacy and civil liberties," he said of the Guardian story.
All information the government acquires “is subject to strict, court-imposed restrictions on review and handling. The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.”
A senior administration official also defended the program.
“The program is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress,” the official said. “It involves extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons.”