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.”