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Ordinary Americans find themselves in cross hairs of massive U.S.
government spy factory

June 07, 2013

A slide showing elements of the top-secret U.S. government PRISM program

"Few Americans believe that they live in a police state; indeed many would be outraged at the suggestion. Yet the everyday fact that the police have the right to monitor the communications of all its citizens – in secret – is a classic hallmark of a state that fears freedom."

Op-Ed piece June 6, 2013 The Guardian

(NATIONAL) -- It was a rude awakening yesterday for many Americans who believed that living in a democracy protected them from the excesses of some totalitarian regimes; excesses such as massive spy efforts to ascertain movements, motives and communications of the masses.

Many Americans had been under the impression that living in the USA meant they were protected from a large, secret government spy network spending millions of their tax dollars to pry into their lives if they had not committed a crime or were suspected of criminal activity.

But as of Thursday such thoughts became for many, remnants in the dust bin of history and an America that once was.

Today's America isn't the Ward and June Cleaver TV household of the 1950's, the Beave has left the building and we're not in Kansas anymore, to quote Dorothy after landing in Oz.

First came a report Thursday in the British newspaper The Guardian that published a heretofore secret court order directing the U.S. telecommunications giant Verizon to hand over electronic data on all its customers on an "ongoing daily basis".

"We decline comment," Ed McFadden, a Washington-based Verizon spokesman told The Guardian.

The order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson of the secret Intelligence Surveillance Court was dated April 25 is in effect until July 19.

The order requires Verizon to disclose to the highly secretive National Security Agency (NSA) what is referred to as the "metadata" of all calls it processes, both domestic and international; data which includes telephone numbers, calling card numbers, International Mobile Subscriber Identity numbers (IMSI), International Mobile station Equipment Identity numbers (IMEI) as well as the time and duration of calls but reportedly not the names and addresses of its customers although presumably that is a short hop once an analyst has the metadata.

In the report the newspaper noted, "The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."

The story also noted this:
"The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration's surveillance activities.

For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on "secret legal interpretations" to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be "stunned" to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted."

In a separate Op-Ed piece on Thursday The Guardian said the revelation of this massive government snooping program has put "American freedom on the line...the fact that police have the right to monitor the communications of all its citizens – in secret – is a classic hallmark of a state that fears freedom."


Then later Thursday came a report from the Washington Post that stated firmly the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI "are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates."

The Post said it found that out via a top-secret document it obtained, without mentioning where or when it was obtained.

The newspaper said the program, code-named PRISM, had not been made public until now and it may be the first of its kind.

The report said the way it works is, NSA collects the data it wants "directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

And it's all legal and court-approved. It's part of the 2007 "Protect America Act" and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which gave immunity to private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection.

Some items from the report:

~ PRISM "recruited" its first partner, Microsoft, and started six years of "rapidly growing data collection" while a national debate was underway about surveillance and privacy.

~ Last year, when critics in Congress wanted some changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were "bound by oaths of office to keep silent."

~ Some companies the Post contacted, such as Facebook said they had no knowledge whatsoever of the program and responded only to individual requests for information. Microsoft issued a statement saying it provides customer data "only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis.”

~ The Post report also pointed out that what it referred to as "government officials" and the secret document it had obtained made clear that the NSA "regarded the identities of its private partners as PRISM’s most sensitive secret," and feared they would withdraw from the program if exposed. The Post said there were briefing notes in that secret document where someone wrote, "98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft; we need to make sure we don’t harm these sources.” The implication appeared to be such companies were acting as voluntary partners in the data extraction.

~ The report made a point of noting that the NSA, "whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of U.S. companies that host hundreds of millions of U.S.-held accounts on U.S. soil."

The full Post report can be found here

The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper issued a statement Thursday saying that, "Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats. The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans."


A new report in the Wall Street Journal about the PRISM program claims that, along with customer records from the three major phone networks as well as emails and Web searches, the NSA also has cataloged credit-card transactions.

The story quotes "people familiar with the agency's activities," as a basis for the report.

The story says the agency is "using its secret access to the communications of millions of Americans to target possible terrorists, and that the NSA's efforts "have become institutionalized," — yet not so well known to the public — under laws passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Also noted in the WSJ report:
"The arrangement with Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, the country's three largest phone companies means, that every time the majority of Americans makes a call, NSA gets a record of the location, the number called, the time of the call and the length of the conversation, according to people familiar with the matter. The practice, which evolved out of warrantless wiretapping programs begun after 2001, is now approved by all three branches of the U.S. government.

AT&T has 107.3 million wireless customers and 31.2 million landline customers. Verizon has 98.9 million wireless customers and 22.2 million landline customers while Sprint has 55 million customers in total.

NSA also obtains access to data from Internet service providers on Internet use such as data about email or website visits, several former officials said. NSA has established similar relationships with credit-card companies, three former officials said."

A new report on the tech-oriented website GigaOM which bills itself as a "leading independent voice on emerging technologies and the disruption of media," says the revelations of the government's data collection efforts, including from phone service providers, Internet companies and credit-card and transaction-processing companies, " Is significant because it amounts to a wholesale domestic spying program on the millions of Americans who use common cloud-based services like GoogleDrive or Apple’s iCloud."

Cindy Cohn, general counsel of the nonprofit digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and staff attorney Mark Rumold, in a blog post wrote of the secret government order to Verizon to hand over data of all phone calls, "It is very likely that business records orders like this exist for every major American telecommunication company, meaning that if you make calls in the United States the NSA has those records."



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