Data Collection Caper: Internet Giants Claim They’re Not Players
Over the first two weeks of June 2013, the blockbuster disclosure of a vast spying operation conducted by the National Security Agency has generated claims and counterclaims, accusations and denials. According to stories published by the Guardian and the Washington Post, Internet and media giants ranging from Google to Facebook participated in a scheme by the NSA to collect data on ordinary Americans. However, several of the named companies have issued strong denials of any knowledge, much less participation in the program. It seems that the truth will only be disclosed over months and years, if it is ever disclosed at all.
Data Storage and Supercomputers
There is little doubt that the NSA and the intelligence arm of the federal government possess vast capacity to spy on anyone. The existence of a vast data storage center in Utah and a code cracking supercomputer in Tennessee has been reliably documented. While there is no substantive evidence that these facilities were designed or used specifically to spy on Americans, their existence begs the question. If they are not designed to spy on Americans, hat purposes do these facilities serve?
What Is PRISM?
PRISM is a security operation reportedly run by NSA with the cooperation of several of the nation’s biggest telecommunications, social media and Internet companies. PRISM is allegedly a surveillance operation targeting the activities and communications of foreign individuals who have aroused the interest of the federal government. However, in its gathering of data, PRISM has almost certainly collected information about Americans, especially those who have had direct dealings with foreigners. The named companies that allegedly participated in the PRISM surveillance program were Facebook, Google, Yahoo, PalTalk, AOL, Microsoft , Skype, YouTube and Apple
They Said, They Said
According to statements made by former NSA employee and self-described whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA was engaged in a massive data collection operation conduced with the full knowledge and cooperation of the companies named above. Yet several of the companies have issued statements that can only be classified as strong denials of participation in any such program.
So who is telling the truth?. The NSA does have a history of running backdoor operations; including the infamous “Room 641a” secret intercept operation within AT&T. In addition, questions have been raised about how Edward Snowden obtained such a high security clearance despite his youth (as of this writing he is only twenty-nine years old) and his limited formal education (he was a high school dropout).
Given the evidence of the existence of a surveillance program and the strong denials of the companies said to be involved, is there any way to reconcile this contradiction? Is the surveillance program as vast and comprehensive as the reports claim? Were entire email messages read and complete phone conservations tapped? Or did the news media overstate the story based on limited information? Did the named companies actually cooperate knowingly with the PRISM program or did the NSA plant one or two rogue employees inside those companies? At present there is no way to know. What is obvious is that this story is far from over.