In what may have been the single largest leak in the history of the United States National Security Agency, contractor Edward Snowden brought the PRISM surveillance program into the public spotlight after a series of exposés with The Guardian. While the program has been a constant topic in recent news cycles, understanding what PRISM actually is and how it operates allows for a more comprehensive grasp of the ways in which such surveillance impacts daily life.
29 Jun 2013
Understanding the Implications of PRISM
Though the general public is only just finding out about the program, PRISM has been in effect since at least 2007. While the Bush administration publicly abandoned warantless wire tapping activities, the Protect America Act of 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 during that same period opened the doorway that would allow for PRISM to operate under full legality.Widely considered to be the number one source of intelligence for outgoing NSA reports, PRISM was intended as a means of monitoring potential foreign communications passing through US servers. However, recent leaks have proven that a tremendous amount of domestic activity has been analyzed as well. Virtually all major US corporations involved in providing online services are also contributing information to PRISM. From Microsoft and Apple to Facebook and Skype, server information has been made available to both the FBI and the NSA.For the average person, it may not seem like a serious issue at first glance. But one of the more troubling aspects of the PRISM surveillance program is just how much data is collected. Audio and video chats, photo libraries, transferred files, and emails, among others, are all collected. The program is even capable of monitoring what citizens search for online in real time. The metadata that PRISM collects comprises virtually everything the average citizen does online, making all of that information available to government agencies with very little oversight. In effect, the enormous depth of this surveillance potentially renders online privacy almost nonexistent.While it will be some time before the full implications of the program and its impacts are known, there has been very little done about it thus far. Because the program technically operates by the letter of the law, backed by both Congress authorization and the corporations which submit the data, it is likely that PRISM’s efforts will continue for the foreseeable future.