Everything You Need To Know About Apple And PRISM [Updated]

apple_america

Today the story broke about PRISM, a supposedly top-secret program at the US National Security Agency (NSA) that has been in operation since 2007.

According to The Washington Post, current intelligence reporting increasingly relies on PRISM as its main source of raw data and is used in almost 1 out of every 7 intelligence reports these days.

Here’s the basic breakdown of what’s happening so far in the story, who’s involved, what’s being looked at, and more.

Who’s Involved?

  • The NSA and the FBI
  • Microsoft (2007), Yahoo (2008), Google (2009), Facebook (2009), PalTalk (2009), YouTube (2010), Skype (2011), AOL (2011), Apple (2012)

What’s Being Shared?

While specifics of what has actually been shared aren’t in the slideshow, the following types of files are called out:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Images
  • Emails
  • Documents
  • Connection Logs
  • Live Chats

How Long Has This Been In Operation?

According to the slideshow document, at least since 2007, when Microsoft joined PRISM.

Has My Information Been Compromised?

It’s unclear what specific information has been shared, and even less clear who’s information has been shared. The PRISM document claims that the intelligence data is being gathered to analyze people’s contacts and movements over time, but it doesn’t say how such data is analyzed, or how individuals are chosen to be analyzed.

How Have The Companies Responded

Apple, Facebook, and Google have each responded with flat-out denials.

“We have never heard of PRISM,” said Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling in a statement. “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”

In a statement to The Guardian, Google said that it “cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

According to AllThingsD, Facebook said, “We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. 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.”

Where Can I See This Presentation?

The slide presentation is available viewable in an annotated version over at The Washington Post.

What Does The Government Have To Say?

According to TechCrunch, the director of US National Intelligence James R. Clapper said today that the clause in question, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is only for “foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States,” and “cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.”

He continues to say that such data gathering is used to protect our nation from a variety of threats, is entirely legal, and disclosure of such information is reprehensible and could risk the safety of Americans. He does not address anything about the companies who have issued statements.

This story is developing; please check back for updates as they happen.

  • nikster

    Only Apple protects your private data. Facebook and Google apparently dont give a f*** which I find shocking. Why, ever, would fb and Google not require a court order for access to private data? Does that buy them friends in Washington?
    I dont want them to “scrutinize” each request. There are already procedures in place to protect citizens privacy and at the same time allow criminals to be prosecuted, and these procedures have a strict separation of the legislative and executive. Would it kill FB/Google to do what any decent company would do and require a court order?

    And Microsoft did not comment? Silence that speaks…

  • nikster

    Only Apple protects your private data. Facebook and Google apparently dont give a f*** which I find shocking. Why, ever, would fb and Google not require a court order for access to private data? Does that buy them friends in Washington?
    I dont want them to “scrutinize” each request. There are already procedures in place to protect citizens privacy and at the same time allow criminals to be prosecuted, and these procedures have a strict separation of the legislative and executive. Would it kill FB/Google to do what any decent company would do and require a court order?

    And Microsoft did not comment? Silence that speaks…

  • lwdesign1

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least. For years there have been reports of the software used by the US govt. known as “Carnivore” that has been eavesdropping on phone calls, scanning emails, etc. for over a decade. There’s no real privacy on our planet anymore and hasn’t been for a long time. For fun, watch the original “Bourne Identity” movie to see how the agency that Bourne works for tracks and can break into phone calls, surveillance cameras and international computer and travel networks. It may seem like science fiction but I personally believe that the powers that be can tap into any of our electronic communications at will these days. How do we protect ourselves? The answer is simple: Don’t do anything that is currently regarded as illegal, antisocial or terrorist-related. Of course, it remains that someone else may consider that even complaining about security makes you a security risk, so just try to keep your nose as clean as possible.

  • Robert X

    It is entirely possible that PRISM is at the ISP level and these companies really do not know about it.

  • Alexander530

    I support national security and all. But I find this frightening as well. An innocent person who fits the profile of someone that the government is looking for can be arrested. Any internet activity that he or she has committed can be given malice and given all the wrong meanings no matter how safe and clean it is. I just hope that they’re really careful with the data that they’re gathering and not wrongly accuse innocent people of very serious crimes that would ruin an innocent person’s life.

  • JoshDombro

    Thanks for this, I’ve heard a lot about PRISM since yesterday, but haven’t been able to get a lot of real info. This is really helpful, despite getting such mixed signals from the companies themselves…

  • iDuder

    I don’t think I’ll ever buy another Apple product again. I now have tape over all my iSight cameras. Apple has failed miserably to protect consumer’s rights & privacy.

  • iDuder

    Actually, I’m not sure what to believe, from another report I read, Apple flat out denied having any involvement in PRISM… could there be spies at Apple that they don’t know about? Apple needs to just seriously review who has access to what and try to figure out where any data leaks are happening, if there are any. I suppose it’s not fair to totally blame all of Apple but they have a responsibility to ensure customer’s privacy.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, Creative Screenwriting, Shelf-Awareness, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef, and send him a cookie once in a while; he'll really appreciate it.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , , |