It’s official: Big Brother is watching you. And despite previous denials, he’s finally been forced to admit it.
The term “leaks” seems insufficient to describe a pair of revelations regarding US government surveillance last week. They were more like floods, or perhaps even tidal waves.
Last Wednesday, the Guardian published a formerly top-secret court order from April requiring telecommunications giant Verizon to fork over to the National Security Administration “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” as well as all calls “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls” for a three-month period. Verizon hosts approximately 100 million customers who generate about a billion calls daily, all of which was being vacuumed up into government databases. (Former NSA employee gone rogue William Binney has told the Associated Press that the agency gathers records on up to three billion calls daily.)
On Thursday it was revealed that fellow telecom titans AT&T and Sprint, as well as credit-card companies, are also part of the massive surveillance initiative. It was subsequently disclosed that the recent three-month order affecting Verizon has been part of an ongoing NSA policy that has been renewed every quarter for the past seven years. Verizon officials declined to comment because they are under a gag order.
Although the court order covered only the calls’ “metadata” rather than the calls themselves, its has already been alleged that NSA officials eavesdrop on American citizens, sometimes for fun.
The follow-up punch came on Thursday with the revelation that the NSA has been tapping into user data from nine of the world’s largest tech corporations. The formerly top-secret program, code-named PRISM, allegedly started in December 2007 when Microsoft—who are running an ad campaign with the tagline “Your privacy is our priority”—signed on, followed in order by Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. (To its credit, Twitter has reportedly refused to join the herd.) The program gives the federal government access to users’ audio, video, chats, photographs, social-network details, and email. It has resulted in nearly 80,000 intelligence reports.
One by one, the companies allegedly involved in the PRISM program denied any knowledge of its existence, presumably for legal reasons. It remains unclear whether PRISM allowed the NSA direct access to the companies’ servers—as was initially reported—or whether they were obtaining information that companies provided to them as a result of specific requests.
On Thursday, scrotum-faced Director of National Intelligence James Clapper deemed the PRISM leak to be “reprehensible,” claiming the program was designed to “protect our nation from a wide variety of threats,” which presumably doesn’t include the threat of the federal government using technology to track its own citizens like a psychopathic stalker. Jeremy Bash, chief of staff to former CIA Director Leon Panetta, defended the program’s breadth thusly: “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack.” We are left to assume that so-called “terrorists” are needles, while everyone else is merely hay.
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