Soon after the news of the NSA’s PRISM program became public, President Barack Obama defended it and said that it was needed in an era where a continual threat of terrorism exists. He stressed that the massive U.S. government surveillance program was only a “modest encroachment” on privacy but something the U.S. needs.
During a visit to California on Friday the President spoke candidly about the program saying, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about.” Obama stressed that the formerly secret program was indeed watched over by federal judges and given approval by Congress.
The President’s remarks were due to the U.K.- based Guardian and the Washington Post both revealing that the NSA was deeply involved with the largest Internet-based companies on the globe. The data also suggests that not only were the companies involved but that the NSA somehow had a direct access to their data centers.
The two reports triggered an avalanche of questions from the public and other media outlets all questioning whether the government was somehow involved in an illegal act by storing the data on all Internet communications. The intense questioning resulted with the Obama Administration along with members of Congress struggling to downplay the reports from the Washington Post and Guardian.
President Obama immediately fired back concerning the leak and tried to downplay it stating that his administration had nothing to do with the PRISM program and that it had been in place for a number of years and all part of the post 9/11 efforts to stop terrorism. “In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance,” Obama said on Friday.
Obama also noted that the secret federal court always reviewed the requests when the NSA or FBI needed to look at the data that was collected. He also stated that there were many members of Congress that were alerted when the secret court sanctioned access to the intelligence.
Nevertheless, the President did admit that just before he came into office and he was briefed on the details of the program he said that he was very skeptical of it and a bit apprehensive about it. He then found that the program worked and that the “modest encroachments” on American citizens privacy was worth the security it gave back. “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”
The Washington Post claimed in their June 6, 2013 report that the PRISM program was tapped directly into 9 of the largest Internet companies’ servers, which includes Google, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook. The reason, according to the Washington Post, was to acquire emails, photographs and all manner of files or documents so that they may track the movements and contacts for a suspect that may be major threat on the U.S. or abroad.
The Washington Post report came just after the report from the Guardian showing where Verizon turned over millions of their customers’ phone records. In turn the Wall Street Journal reported that not only Verizon, but also AT&T, and Sprint’s customer records were stored as well.
While the controversy over the leak alone caused a panic with readers, the real curiosity is how the companies named in the leak have denied any kind of involvement with any type of program with the NSA. In fact, Google said they have never heard of any such program until the report came out on Thursday.
Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have all denied any type of connection with the NSA and have defended how their companies have honored the privacy of their customers.
Microsoft specifically said that they had never offered any government agency access to their customers data and they only gave up information only when a official request was given to them and even that was specific to a specific account belonging to one or associated identities.
Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg made an official statement on his Facebook page saying that Facebook was not involved with any kind of government mining and certainly didn’t give the NSA direct access to Facebook’s servers. “We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received,” Zuckerberg wrote. “And if we did, we would fight it aggressively.”
Thus far none of the companies listed in the report have admitted to being involved in PRISM, but the fact remains that the Obama administration is defending it, meaning that it must exist. In fact, the President is praising the program’s usage and said that with the NSA collecting what is referred to as “metadata”, that it is only used for research when tracking down terrorism leads. He also suggested that the program had safeguards set in place to prevent corruption or misuse of its powerful technology.
In regards to what the program does, the President said that it does not “involve listening to people’s phone calls, do not involve reading the emails of U.S. citizens or U.S. residents, absent further action by a federal court that is entirely consistent with what we would do, for example, in a criminal investigation.”
The question still remains as to why the major Internet companies noted to be connected to PRISM have denied all involvement. Also, if the companies are being truthful with their customers, does this mean the NSA has found a way to harvest the data by some kind of technology that is not disclosed?