Are Apple And Other Tech Companies Lying About Their Involvement With PRISM?

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Yesterday, The Washington Post broke the story that the NSA, according to a leaked presentation, is “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies” to collect information on users, including e-mail, chat, photos, videos, and social network details. Basically everything, in other words.

The program is called PRISM and Apple is one of the many companies that a leaked presentation notablyclaims is involved.

Apple is denying that they have participated in PRISM, or even heard about it. That would seemingly end matters, except for one thing: even if Apple was part of PRISM, they would be required by law not to admit it if asked.

Michael Arrington has written a fascinating theory about what might be going on with PRISM. Every tech company cited in the leaked presentation has disavowed any part of the program, but the wording they use in each case is startlingly similar: the NSA has no direct access to data on our servers, and any data given up must come with a court order.

But it’s a non-denial. As we’ve recently seen, Verizon was recently compelled by the NSA by court-order to give up all of their customers’ phone records both present and future, and today, it looks like AT&T and T-Mobile were also compelled to do so.

So all it takes is one court order to compel these companies to give up all their user data to the NSA, essentially forever. But here’s the rub: once they do, they are immune from prosecution or civil lawsuits for doing so! Even worse, even if they wanted to admit having been compelled to give up your data, they can’t: it’s against the law, and could possibly be considered treasonous.

This is all very worrying. As Arrington notes:

The truth of what’s going on becomes obvious.

The U.S. government is compelling companies to turn over all personal information of users to the NSA. They have immunity for this, and they are absolutely prohibited from admitting it.

The result is a massive NSA database that includes information about everything we do online, and everything we do offline that has any online ghost (checkins, photos, etc.).

It’s hard not to be alarmed by this. If this theory is true, the government has effectively gathered data on everything you’ve ever done online. And no one involved can legally talk about it.

Arrington says that “now is the time to stand up and talk, and be a hero. Or not, and be complicit.”

If this theory is true, maybe it takes someone like Tim Cook — too big and important and powerful to be brought down — to stand up and say, “Yes, Apple participated in the program. We had to. But we can’t keep silent about it anymore: it’s un-American.”

  • JoeBlowZCUI

    I don’t care if you’re a lefty or a righty. This is a level of government surveillance unseen in the history of humanity. A vast majority of the cell phone-using population of the United States are monitored. A vast majority of the the earth’s internet users are being monitored.
    .
    To be melodramatic to make a point: this is the kind of thing that would justify burning down Congress. Americans should be in the streets. And every globally concerned citizen should be writing to their government representatives, imploring them to complain to the Americans for this highly immoral and secretive global surveillance.
    .
    I believe this behavior should be considered a crime against humanity. It is a violation of basic human decency, and is obscene. Many heads should roll.

  • technochick

    Love the FUD. assuming the slides are legit, which is not proven just cause the Post says so, it says MAY INCLUDE. Not does include.

  • wdowell

    I think that all the big Cloud providers, including Apple would do their credibility a world of good if they provided a page on their websites and a list of where their servers are located and the most likely list of where the data is kept. Of course technically it wont be possible to know where things are 100% but give the end user the choice on who’s jurisdiction they come under.

    As a non US citizen i find it crazy that I am essentially bound by a US law which had their been no leak we would probably still be pretty much in the dark.

    Of course that doesn’t stop, for example, the UK’s agencies from doing exactly the same – as i imagine they do – and having those reciprocal arrangements. So, US citizens – your data where stored elsewhere could still be read and end up with the NSA..

  • Andrew_X_Thomas

    Seriously.. “notablyclaims” is not a word…. I lost interest in the merits of this article after encountering yet another typo/spelling mistake which seems to be rife at Cult of Mac… You’re obviously not journalists.. even high school students know how to use a spellchecker… jeeze…

  • AdonisBlood33

    Their press releases all sound the same because they are all written my lawyers. If you look at licensing agreements from apple they sound similar to google because its written by people trained to speak a certain way. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s legalese.

    And what a convenient conspiracy. If they disavow being a part of it… That means they are apart of it because they are allowed to. By that logic. Everyone is involved in this conspiracy because if you say you’re in it, you are. And if you say you’re not in it, you are. It takes a hive minded person to believe this without questioning it. Don’t believe everything you read people.

  • AdonisBlood33

    Since when is cult of Mac a conspiracy site?

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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