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June 7, 2013

U.S. Collecting Data From Internet Companies: Report

NSA Document Indicates Companies Like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple Part of Program

Video chats, e-mails, photographs, messages via social networks — none are safe from the prying eyes of American law enforcement agencies.

Just one day after The Guardian posted on its website proof that the National Security Agency and the FBI had forced Verizon via a court order to hand over data from the telephone calls of its subscribers, The Washington Post has uncovered a top-secret program that monitors virtually every form of online communication available.

The National Security Agency and the FBI, authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), are monitoring all of the biggest U.S. Internet companies, some for as long as six years.

According to documentation — a 41-page presentation — obtained by The Post, the monitoring campaign, dubbed PRISM, costs $20 million a year to run. PRISM is likely another so-called anti-terrorist measure.

The documentation indicated Microsoft was the first company to get on board with the government surveillance plan, joining PRISM in 2007. Yahoo joined the following year and Google, Facebook and PalTalk signed up in 2009. YouTube came on board in 2010, Skype and AOL in 2011 and Apple in 2012.

These providers handed over such things as e-mails, video and voice chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of activity, online social networking details and special requests.

According to The Post’s report, the program focuses primarily on foreign communications traffic, much of which flows through U.S. servers.

Despite the information obtained by The Post, none of the Internet companies has admitted to being a part of PRISM.

“We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers,” Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan told The Post. “When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”

Apple told The Guardian it had “never heard of PRISM.” Both Apple and Microsoft say they do not provide the government with access to data without a court order.

“We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis,” Microsoft said in a statement on its website. “In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”

Google told The Guardian it “does not have a ‘back door’ for the government to access private user data,” while Yahoo said it does not “provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.”