NSA’s Verizon-Targeting ‘Prism’ Program Leaks

smartphonepressPZ(Ping! Zine Web Tech Magazine) – The National Security Agency has been collecting your phone records. The revelation was recently highlighted in the leak of classified documents by a former NSA and CIA employee.

Publications including the Washington Post and England’s Guardian were among the first to receive details of a program called “PRISM” which reportedly directed Verizon Business Network Services to hand over telephone records to the NSA, according to New Yorker magazine.

And while the program didn’t directly tap into telephone audio, it may have helped build a database of phone records – inbound and outbound calls. The U.S. government has defended this as a means to guard against terrorist threats.

Edward Snowden, the man responsible for the leak, is currently residing in Hong Kong. U.S. authorities will likely pursue charges against Snowden and seek his extradition back to the United States. The former NSA employee could face decades in prison if convicted.

Snowden, meanwhile, is hoping to receive asylum. At the time of the recent leak, he was employed with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii – a position he held less than three months.

Hong Kong does have an extradition treaty with the United States and Chinese authorities could choose to cooperate with the U.S. on the matter. Snowden, however, has cited Hong Kong’s tradition of free speech as a reason why the city makes sense for his stay.

Although China as a whole is considered rather strict in terms of free speech, Hong Kong is different. There, unlike other parts of the country, access to all online websites is readily available. Hong Kong’s distinction as a former British territory also gives it a western-styled court system.

Members of the U.S. Congress have defended the NSA-based initiative – noting it did receive approval from Congress and was based on FISA, also known as the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

“A primary mission of the U.S. intelligence community is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, and Congress works closely with the executive branch to ensure that the authorities necessary to keep our country safe are in place. One of these authorities is the ‘business records’ provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under which the executive branch is authorized to collect ‘metadata’ concerning telephone calls, such as a telephone number or the length of a call. This law does not allow the government to listen in on the content of a phone call,” read a joint statement issued by U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss.

PRISM didn’t only pertain to phone records, however. Also supposedly granted in the program were stipulations that allowed authorities to tap directly into the servers of large internet companies including Google, Microsoft, AOL and Apple. Google, however, defended itself against the matter, issuing the following Tweet via its official Twitter page on Friday: “We cannot say this more clearly—the government does not have access to Google servers.”

More info to come…