PRISM: Is The US Government Invading Your Privacy?

Lately, the internet and anything related to it has exploded with the news of PRISM, a government operation to monitor internet use for possible terrorism.

 

What is PRISM?

PRISM monitors online use and searches

With PRISM, the government has access to your search history and monitors for patterns or trends in your searches and emails.

As reported by The Washington Post and The Guardian on Thursday, June 6th, the program is an effort with its roots in anti-terrorism measures in 2007,  by which the FBI and the National Security Agency, as well as Britain’s GCHQ, their equivalent of the NSA, are collecting information on citizens directly from their searches, emails, and more.  The information given to these news sources said that the program received data directly from some of the largest internet companies, including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, PayPal, Skype, AOL, and more.

 

Responses to PRISM:

Understandably, there has been a positive uproar about this news.  The information was leaked anonymously at first, but the whistleblower for this act has since identified himself – Edward Snowden.  He says his motivation for revealing this information was because “I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

Snowden, who previously had led a fairly quiet life, has now been labeled a traitor and fled to China, and is facing accusations of treason, and even espionage for China.  Others hail him for his courage in exposing this secret government program.

As for the companies named as information gatherers, all deny knowledge of such activities.  Google’s response was essentially “Wait, what?”  as enumerated in their blog shortly after this became public.

“First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday,” Google said on their blog.  They went on to say that they only allow any government access to their information as they are legally required to, and conclude by calling for more transparency in information gathering, stating that “…We understand that the U.S. and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety—including sometimes by using surveillance. But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.”

Apple issued a similar statement.  “We first heard of the government’s “Prism” program when news organizations asked us about it on June 6.”  The statement continued, saying that they only give information in response to legal governmental requests.  Such requests usually come asking from “police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide,” according to the official Apple statement.  They continued to reaffirm their dedication to keeping customer’s information private.

As for the general public, the response to the news has been generally negative and rather incendiary.  Protests and angry statements are common, and the NSA has become the subject of many scathing jokes and derogatory comments.

 

We’ll continue to look into the reaction to PRISM in upcoming posts, so stay alert.

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