Is Silicon Valley Spying On You For The Federal Government?

    June 9, 2013
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

Everything you do on Facebook, Google or any other online service is protected, right? There are strict privacy guidelines in place that keep your data out of the hands of government or third parties. Well, that’s at least what we thought until yesterday.

Say hello to PRISM – your all-in-one data mining and surveillance system that has its hands in pretty much every major tech company. The Washington Post acquired a number of slides from an anonymous source that details the top secret program. In short, it’s a collaboration between Silicon Valley and the NSA that allows the latter to gather data from the servers of companies like Google and Facebook.

Do you think the government is practicing large-scale surveillance? Let us know in the comments.

So, now we know that PRISM is a surveillance program. What exactly does it do though? What is its purpose? According to The Post, PRISM is intended to gather data on foreign threats. Oftentimes, communications between terrorists and other antagonistic groups flow through data centers located in the U.S. PRISM allows the NSA to gather this data from the servers of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others to expose plans that these groups may have.

Well, that doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, the government is only collecting information on foreign entities. It’s not like they the program collects information on Americans, right? Well, this is where things get tricky. Officially, PRISM is only supposed to collect information on foreign threats, but the reality is that Americans’ data is collected as well. According to The Post, this is called “incidental” data and it’s impossible for the program to avoid it. In fact, the government collects the data if it’s anyway related to the target on hand.

We now know what PRISM is, but who’s involved? According to the leaked documents, a large number of major players in Silicon Valley are participating. Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple have all allegedly opened up their servers to the government so PRISM can be used to collect information from their servers.


What is collected from these servers? It depends on the company, but the leaked documents say that PRISM goes through email, video chat, voice chat, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of target activity, online social networking details and special requests.


It’s all a little overwhelming, isn’t it? What makes it worse is that all of this is done in secret with the blessing of a secret court. Sure, there are safeguards in place, but those safeguards mean nothing in a program that has no oversight whatsoever. In fact, Sen. Mark Udall, a staunch opponent of the NSA, says that the safeguards don’t “prohibit the intelligence community from searching through a pile of communications, which may have incidentally or accidentally been collected without a warrant, to deliberately search for the phone call or emails of specific Americans.”

So, what do the Silicon Valley giants allegedly involved in this have to say for themselves? Well, not much, but everybody denies that they’re part of the program. In statements sent to the press, Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and Dropbox all say that they take their users’ privacy seriously and that they only share information with the government when legally obligated.

Of course, that’s when you start to read deeper into these statements. Most make mention of only sharing information when legally obligated or when required by law. PRISM is part of FISA – a law. It may be an old law, but it’s still a law nonetheless. By complying with PRISM, these companies would be sharing information when legally obligated. It’s important to note that we may be reading too much into this, but it’s hard to really believe these companies when they’re slapped with gag orders and other laws to keep them quiet about government programs that they may or may not be involved with.

As for the government, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, says that the recent leaks do not present the entire picture:

The Guardian and The Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They contain numerous inaccuracies.

Section 702 is a provision of FISA that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.

Activities authorized by Section 702 are subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. They involve 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.

Section 702 was recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate.

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.

Before we move on, I just want to point out that Clapper is being a little disingenuous when he says that FISA was reauthorized by Congress after much debate. If you recall, FISA was reauthorized with little debate on the grounds that terrorism is scary.

Do you think that the government has the American people’s best interests in mind when it comes to PRISM? Should they be allowed to continue monitoring networks? Let us know in the comments.

What makes this particular leak more worrisome is that it follows on the heels of Wednesday’s revelation that the NSA compels Verizon to share customer metadata with the agency. In short, the NSA knows who calls who and the length of said phone calls when they’re made over Verizon’s network. The administration admitted that it was happening after the leak came out, but insisted that it was needed to combat terrorist threats.

After the PRISM leak, the government came back out and insisted that what it was doing was completely legal. It even listed what it says are “limitations of the program:”

There is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which ensures that those activities comply with the Constitution and laws and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties. The program at issue here is conducted under authority granted by Congress and is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). By statute, the Court is empowered to determine the legality of the program.

By order of the FISC, the Government is prohibited from indiscriminately sifting through the telephony metadata acquired under the program. All information that is acquired under this program 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. Only specially cleared counterterrorism personnel specifically trained in the Court-approved procedures may even access the records.

All information that is acquired under this order is subject to strict restrictions on handling and is overseen by the Department of Justice and the FISA Court. Only a very small fraction of the records are ever reviewed because the vast majority of the data is not responsive to any terrorism-related query.

The Court reviews the program approximately every 90 days. DOJ conducts rigorous oversight of the handling of the data received to ensure the applicable restrictions are followed. In addition, DOJ and ODNI regularly review the program implementation to ensure it continues to comply with the law.

The Patriot Act was signed into law in October 2001 and included authority to compel production of business records and other tangible things relevant to an authorized national security investigation with the approval of the FISC. This provision has subsequently been reauthorized over the course of two Administrations – in 2006 and in 2011. It has been an important investigative tool that has been used over the course of two Administrations, with the authorization and oversight of the FISC and the Congress.

In the end, Clapper says that “surveillance programs like this one are consistently subject to safeguards that are designed to strike the appropriate balance between national security interests and civil liberties and privacy concerns.”

So, the official story is that PRISM is strictly used to monitor foreign threats and communications. There may be some “incidental” data here and there, but the NSA claims to not use this information. They would never think to violate your privacy and civil liberties with PRISM and related programs.

That’s great and all, but the mere existence of PRISM is enough cause for concern. Even if it’s strictly used for the monitoring of foreign threats, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be abused in the future. The ACLU seems to agree when it says that “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.”

Do you trust the government in regards to the NSA and PRISM? Or do you think this goes too far? Let us know in the comments.

  • Name

    If we saw these types of articles in 1980 then we would have thought there were talking about China, East Germany, or the Soviet Union. We would be railing against those countries and screaming that they are suppressing their citizens. But here we are today, talking about this in the United States of America.

    My how we have fallen.

    • http://socsanity.com kevin kirkpatrick

      The unfortunate side is this heightens the conspiracy folks…..I for do not care as I thibk tech shgould be used to stop those who want TO HARM US! I prefer we look at the true issues at hand….Equality, Immigration, Gun Control. We are taking our eye off the ball America!

      • Name

        Problem is … the Conspiracy folks are proving to be more right than wrong.

      • Lukai

        “True Issues”, as in issues that the mainstream media and the government we trust so much has put in front of our noses?

  • Bill

    It once was the Big Red Scare now it’s the Big Tech scare, it’s too late
    Big Brother is watching. He will only watch a little closer, who will develop the underground web were Big Brother can’t hear or see.

    • John

      Do they hack VPN?

  • Chad

    Oh god… I find this hysterical. Everyone gets all worked up over nothing. For years everyone has known but nobody has cared that these business were already collecting data on their consumers and creating profiles to try and target you for profit. All of a sudden people care because the Government is accessing some of this information to target a whole new world of terrorism. If it was 10 years ago when everyone was freaked out over 911 nobody would care. Now all of a sudden we care… But there are SERIOUS threats to the USA that you really have no idea about. Just wait til a nuclear bomb goes of in a major US city and every freaks and wonders why we did try harder to prevent something like this. Watch out people, these threats are more then real. It’s sobering.

    • http://socsanity.com kevin kirkpatrick

      Ride on Chad! On every point my man!

  • Lynn

    Did anyone really think all this easy access to private information would not be utilised by governments, or anyone else for that matter? Anyone who has worked on website design knows all too well how easy it is to gather data. They can put as many privacy laws as they like it won’t stop data being gathered and data is power……..

  • http://trigarn@ebay.com Jessie Garner

    I dont like to be spyed on by no one and after reading the confession by dick cheney that 9/11 was a big lie that Dick cheney had the twin towers taken down to start a war in the middle east and America citizens was murdered by our own government . I dont like it one damn bit.

  • http://trigarn@ebay.com Jessie Garner

    Cheney Admits that He Lied about 9/11

    Posted on March 8, 2013 by WashingtonsBlog

    What Else Did He Lie About?

    The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd writes today:

    In a documentary soon to appear on Showtime, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” [Cheney said] “I got on the telephone with the president, who was in Florida, and told him not to be at one location where we could both be taken out.” Mr. Cheney kept W. flying aimlessly in the air on 9/11 while he and Lynn left on a helicopter for a secure undisclosed location, leaving Washington in a bleak, scared silence, with no one reassuring the nation in those first terrifying hours.

    “I gave the instructions that we’d authorize our pilots to take it out,” he says, referring to the jet headed to Washington that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. He adds: “After I’d given the order, it was pretty quiet. Everybody had heard it, and it was obviously a significant moment.”


    When they testified together before the 9/11 Commission, W. and Mr. Cheney kept up a pretense that in a previous call, the president had authorized the vice president to give a shoot-down order if needed. But the commission found “no documentary evidence for this call.”

    In other words, Cheney pretended that Bush had authorized a shoot-down order, but Cheney now admits that he never did. In fact, Cheney acted as if he was the president on 9/11. *

    Cheney lied about numerous other facts related to 9/11 as well. For example, Cheney:
    ◾Falsely linked Iraq with 9/11 (indeed, the entire torture program was aimed at establishing such a false linkage; and Cheney is the guy who pushed for torture, pressured the Justice Department lawyers to write memos saying torture was legal, and made the pitch to Congress justifying torture. The former director of the CIA said Cheney oversaw American torture policies)
    ◾Falsely claimed that spying on Americans, torture, the Patriot Act, the Afghanistan war, the Iraq war and the “war on terror” were all necessitated by 9/11 … when all of them started or were planned before 9/11
    ◾Falsely stated that an attack such as 9/11 was unforeseeable, when Al Qaeda flying planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon was something which American military and intelligence services – and our allies – knew could happen
    ◾Falsely pretended that he was out of the loop during the 9/11 attacks
    ◾Falsely blamed others for 9/11, when Cheney was in charge of all of America’s counter-terrorism exercises, activities and responses on 9/11. See this Department of State announcement and this CNN article …
    ◾… And when Cheney was apparently responsible for letting the Pentagon get hit by an airplane (confirmed here and here)
    ◾And was instrumental in squashing a real investigation into 9/11

    * Indeed, Cheney initiated Continuity of Government plans on 9/11 which essentially nullified America’s constitutional form of government.

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  • http://trigarn@ebay.com Jessie Garner

    How many Americans lost there life in 9/11. our Government is supposed to protect us ,not murder us.

  • http://basic-blue.za.net/ Quentin. Dixon

    If you have nothing to hide then what’s the problem!

    • http://fowlersnet.org phil

      thats what comrad Putin sez

    • John

      If I have nothing to hide, what business is it of yours?

  • http://albertwagner.blogspot.com Albert Wagner

    In this age of terrorism it is arguably justified. My opinion is that it is a good thing. If you are not doing something wrong it should not be a problem. Threats made on Facebook seem to have shown incidents have been thwarted from viewing their posts. The Constitution was written in the context of adjusting to the times.

  • Martin

    It’s interesting to see that foreigners are defined as “threats” and not customers. I am no longer surprised that certain American companies have a problem being as successful outside the Western World.

  • http://www.blakeman.net/_VA/index.htm Van

    Just as we hate but endure the extreme precautions exercised at every airport on the planet, this mining of all forms of communication has become absolutely necessary.

    The nice thing is that with our democratic checks and balances, any abuse of this will be noticed and will be eventually stopped.

    I would like to see our governments and corporations, within limits, expand and refine this behavioral analysis to where it can also zero in on the growing threat from home grown maverick loners such as the Santa Monica looser, the radicalized Boston bombers and the high school lunatics trying to get attention.

    However, again, these watchers will have to be watched.

    • http://fowlersnet.org phil

      ever notice how the members of the exec legislative and judicial seem to be interchangeable….. “checks and balances” ????? we’ve lost ex-post-facto, due process, habeous corpus, free market, collective bargaining etc. etc. sieg heil tovaricht !

  • Paul

    The Fed’s been Spying On You from 1944 it is now in the EYE’s of every one

  • Zack

    They will go to this length but not have any concern about securing the border? How stupid. Maybe that’s what Obamaphones are all about – making sure everyone who can’t afford to be spied on will have that opportunity. If terrorists are placing calls strictly inside this country with pay as you go phones, what exactly can you possibly gather from meta data? Just because your girlfriend calls you a hundred times a day doesn’t mean you’re plotting an attack! If they got Google to write their algorithm for them their probably gonna have a lot of false red flags. Just sayin.

  • Michael Rohrman

    I can not believe how naive the American public is. We have been under BIG BROTHERS MICROSCOPE for years. Every time you go somewhere or just hang out at home we are being eaves dropped on. If you subscribe to cell phone, cable or satellite tv they know what you do. The people and the Obama phones are constantly being watched, and all calls and numbers recorded to be used against you. It is just that now the news leaked out and people think it is something new. Go to the doctor show your insurance card or medicare they know. Live off the grid is only way to be unseen, but it is hard, we all leave some type of trail whether paper or electronic. Smile you are being watched.

    • http://fowlersnet.org phil

      Rev 13:17-18
      17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
      18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

      6th trumpet 6th scroll 6th vial try wordstudy.org\vov.htm

  • Bob Sharpe

    It’s scary in the hands of a radical leftist administration.

    • http://fowlersnet.org phil

      the only difference twixt a socialist and fascist is semantics.

  • David

    If we were to accept that the US has the right to monitor everyone abroad but not in the US, then we must also accept that other countries have the same right with regard to US citizens i.e. to monitor them as they like…

  • http://www.stationersguild.org Richard May

    The government has an obligation to spy on its citizens. How else could politicians get reelected if they didn’t have the necessary resources to corrupt voters? You’ve got to have the latest social media and information tools to effectively castrate the voting public. Both the Democrats and Republicans are doing a great job corrupting our democracy. Sad to see that our corrupt politicians have to engage Silicon Valley, but they might as well use the best available resources to corrupt absolutely.

  • John

    Big government is like cancer eating away at its host – Freedom.

  • http://www.ChefLeeZ.com Chef LeeZ

    Are you sure it’s acronym isn’t PRISON instead of PRISM! As in our need of media input has virtually created a personal prison of observation till you are coded “like on the no fly list”. If you are on the “no fly list” you can not board an airplane.

    Governments have always spied on anyone they could but now it’s much easier for them to do so as much of the world is on mobile devices which are are almost always linked to a computer that governments can access, mine, and categorize from.

    • http://fowlersnet.org phil

      “fool’s names and fool’s faces oft appear in public places” (facebook)

      bird-brains tweet.. (twitter)

      people get the rulers they deserve.

  • http://travel365.biz.tc Dr. Robert

    EVER taken a tour of the national archives. How much have you ever seen in the Smithsonian. How far would you get in the national treasury. How many floors are there at the pentagon or the U.N. or other buildings around the government. In short, what the government is willing to share is how much ???

  • http://fowlersnet.org phil

    Ephesians 6
    10 For the rest, my brothers, be made powerful in the Lord and in the might of His strength.
    11 Put on all the armor of God, for you to be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil,
    12 because we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world’s rulers, of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenlies.

    get it ????

    • odddays


  • http://astonishingacademy.com Jagoda

    I wonder whether the same already happens in Europe, it seems European governments are very keen in following all the “big brother” practics first introduced in the States.

  • Moin SHaikh

    No surprise. These companies have no option and no alternative except giving access to the government. When you signup for the service at any of these websites, you don’t take time to read terms and condition agreement and that’s where you started loosing it.

  • http://tuckergifts.com charles tucker

    You can be sure the govt. is spying on us. If the U.S. public would get their heads out of the kept lapdog media and listen to the less filtered media (eg. Fox News and hundreds of online blogs) we would not be shocked to know that we have merely seen the tip of the iceberg.

    We can thank silicone valley, in large part, for the election of a known marxista and anti-constitutionalist. His behind-the-scenes executive actions would make your skin crawl.

  • http://king-of-the.net Andrew Batty

    This spying deal is to fill you full of “fear”. Perfect LOVE casts out all fear, so ignore it. We are 315 million in the US alone. NSA is run by a hand full of satanists. Look up michael aquino, he runs NSA. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12 Start using your POWER of LOVE!! Preach the gospel, the highest POWER on earth, that they CAN NOT STAND UP TO!! Trust me, it works. 1 John 4:18 Soon Preachers like myself and YOU will be labeled a terrorist. Anybody coming up against Satan ( Mon-Satan-o & chem trials & vaccines) will be labeled a terrorist. Best to seek the LORD on HIGH and have no FEAR of death. Life is too short on this earth. The LIFE to come will be 100x’s better!! Trust the LORD! His LOVE reigns!!!!

    • odddays

      well, you have an appropriate last name, i’ll say that…

  • http://yahoo.com ron

    oooh what a tangled web we weave with this technology we breed ,one wonders if this electronic society make life easier or, something that comes back to haunt your well being which its main objection is out of control,be not so gullible mcfly

  • Bob

    Social networks like Facebook funnel large numbers of people into a central database that can be used for spying. Why else has the whole concept of social networking been promoted so heavily in the news?

    And, among businesses, the idea of social media marketing has somewhat eclipsed other, more effective forms of marketing.

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Gracious Store

    Law abiding citizens do not need to border themselves about government’s surveillance and mining of data from every server, The government knows who it is targeting. Even if government reads every alphabet on the server, if you keep the law you should not border yourself. After all what does the government has to do with your everyday conversation with your families, friends and business partners if they are legitimate businesses?

  • hooly faizabad/ayodhya

    am looking to find my our temple hings i send to washington post some years back.

  • http://facebooknws.com.pk/ kamran

    Facebooknews provided Dunya TV Pakistan Live TV Channels Watch Online Pakistani Samaa, Geo, Express News facebook news Free Live Online Pakistani TV Channels with Live Drama , on facebooknews.com.pklive news, live news Pakistani tv channels, Dunya TV, Pakistan live tv online, facebook news, Streaming

  • Eric Brady

    Twenty million dollar budget? I’m sure the government is lying on that one. The storage of this amount of information alone would be much higher. I’d guess this is only the tip of the iceberg.
    I was thinking of a way to test and see if PRISM does target U.S. citizens too. – Two friends start an email exchange using new email names and using public libraries. Over a period of a few weeks exchange a prewritten dialog that contains lots of “code” words that the government computers are searching for. Of course it is totally fiction but create a scene where the spies would have to react and alert authorities to clear an area of suspected activity. If enough people did this it would render the program useless assuming they are scanning all email exchanges, but if they only target suspects whom have already been identified I suppose there is nothing to worry about.

  • Jonathon Koch

    If all this is true, one should take care on how one posts comments anywhere! Wrong thing said or concidered to be suspicious by ‘agents of the government’ and the next thing you know men in dark suits wearing dark sunglasses are at your door!
    Can’t say anymore right now, the doorbell just rang!

    • Bryn

      WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO WACH WHAT WE SAY!!! That’s the whole damn point. You know, the first amendment??? The constitution??? You should only have to watch what you say in a Communist country. Jesus Christ!!

  • Pizzaman7

    $2 billion data center in Utah…..nice to see our tax dollars so well spent. this brave guy who came out was making $200K a year and risked everything. he will need asylum someplace and probably never be able to get back into the country.

    I read articles on this months ago….perhaps over a year ago….I kind of dismissed it thinking it was too sensational or written by a conspiracy theorist. wow…that this is now validated as truth.

    make no mistake about this. we are the enemy of the state now. the thought police will have everything on you. they can use it against you when they feel like it. we see the IRS go after political adversaries of this administration. they have everything from your phone data to what you are buying with your credit cards.

    how funny is it that we have very insecure borders and they threaten to take our guns away constantly but they stoop to this behavior.

    I am a big fan of our constitution. it is getting trampled on these days. if you are up to no good the authorities used to have to go to a judge and present the case why they need to wiretap you. now they are too lazy to do that and they are now monitoring everyone so you are presided guilty right off the bat. our founding fathers are turning in their graves. is this what they risked everything for ?

    our government will be flying thousands of drones in our skies by 2020. why is this necessary ?

    I am done with google mail. I am building my own e-mail server. they only thing I will have left is facebook and even there I debate whether I should stay or not.

    Get off the grid as much as possible. it is not worth having your privacy compromised. I don’t have much use for cloud services. hard drives aren’t expensive. do things yourself. have control of your own data. you will be much better off !

    stand up for yourselves. contact your representatives. this has to stop !

    • JD

      personally i’d say the best way for the world to deal with is too spam it… create so much anti US stuff on the net (by non-US citizens) that the whole system falls apart !!

    • http://calvinjwiseman.tripod.com/ Calvin Wiseman

      Unfortunately data acquisition laws are a lot like taxes once they are passed the government machinery gets accustomed to having a new data/revenue stream to play with and as such they almost NEVER get repealed because it takes an act of Congress to repeal them. I don’t the new NSA facility in Utah with a $2 billion dollar price tag is going to be dismantled any time in the near future.

  • Paul

    The creepy thing is the secrecy. Even the court for surveillance cases meets secretly; it’s judgements and cases are not published. Secret courts are a major stop on the road to dictatorship. In other words, there is no way the public can know if the system is abused. Imagine if the wrong guy got into the White House or became the head of the one of the agencies involved ……

  • http://fowlersnet.org phil

    Rev 13:17
    17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

  • http://roycobden.wordpress.com/ Roy Cobden

    The US government’s uppermost interest is the perpetuation of itself. The health, wealth & security of any individual citizen is arguably irrelevant.

    75 or 80 years ago everything Hitler & the Nazis did was ‘legal’. It was justified by their leaders as necessary and citizens accepted the lies and propaganda as the truth.

    Today people aren’t really any different. Get them a bit scared and they’ll accept any manner of outrageous government behaviour if it’s sold to them as “worth sacrificing for our safety”.

    It’s so transparently formulaic it’s almost amusing. Except it’s not. And the hard of thinking lap it up.

    History may not repeat, but it sure does rhyme.