The NSA's cyber-snoops are everywhere

President Obama defends the Prism program as legal and justified. Lots of folks clearly disagree.

By Jonathan Berr Jun 7, 2013 3:04PM
The National Security Agency logo is shown on a computer screen at the NSA in Fort Meade, Maryland on January 25, 2006 (© Brooks Kraft/Corbis)The depth of the government's controversial cyber-snooping is far more extensive than originally thought.

According to reports in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post, the National Security Agency and the FBI are directly tapping into the servers of some of the world's largest tech companies, including Google (GOOG), Apple (AAPL),  Yahoo (YHOO), AOL (AOL) and Microsoft (MSFT).

The companies told the newspapers they had no knowledge of such a program, which is separate from Thursday's revelations that a court had ordered Verizon (VZ)  to disclose data on millions of its customers. (Microsoft owns and publishes moneyNOW, an MSN Money site.)

Dubbed Prism, the program gives the government access to a trove of information, such as the content of emails, search histories, live chats and file transfers. It was started in the George W. Bush administration after the existence of the so-called warrantless wiretap program was unveiled in the press. Prism is aimed at communications that originated overseas.

Speaking to the press today, President Barack Obama argued that Prism is lawful and that members of Congress were properly briefed about it. The government isn't listening to people's phone calls, he said. But alarm bells sure are ringing.

An unusual alliance of libertarians, The New York Times, the ACLU and even former Vice President Al Gore have joined forces in condemning the Obama administration's efforts. Some critics have worried for years that these sorts of activities have been occurring.

In a strange twist, The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page is backing the administration, saying that "the data sweep is worth it if it prevents terror attacks that would lead politicians to endorse far greater harm to civil liberties."

Of course, citizens will have to take the government's word that it's respecting their privacy. The ramifications are huge, given how much the government can learn about people just by examining their digital footprints.
"Even without intercepting the content of communications, the government can use metadata to learn our most intimate secrets -- anything from whether we have a drinking problem to whether we're gay or straight," the ACLU's Jay Stanley an Ben Wizner write in an op-ed for Reuters. "The suggestion that metadata is 'no big deal' -- a view that, regrettably, is still reflected in the law -- is entirely out of step with the reality of modern communications."

The Obama administration will need to back its words about respecting the public's privacy with deeds, which as of yet haven't been forthcoming.

Jonathan Berr doesn't own shares of the listed stocks.  Follow him on Twitter@jdberr.

More on moneyNOW

Jun 9, 2013 7:22PM
Back to using smoke signals - with secret code of course.  Where will it all end???
Sep 26, 2013 6:06AM
I and family currently in this b.s. after there collection of records they follow you everywhere! I have been cross country about 2 times and western states about 5 times. It started with a couple of them, then a dozen. I have been in security in the past and was very good at it. After identifying and confirming I would play cat and mouse, sometimes well over the speed limit. I tried to find out why they were doing this but they would ignore me and look away like I wasn't there, I thought maybe I could help them if I knew what it was. My family thought I was loosing it, until I bought a video cam and taped while doing daily duties, I showed them the footage and we were shocked! There were more than 50 people/vehicles surrounding me at all times. It disturbed me so much that I pointed out to a lot of them that I new what was up and that there cover was blown. That just made it worse, now they most likely think I'm messing with them but all I want is to let them know their slacking and how to do it better. Now I have hundreds of them around me and I can never be alone, not even at my house, their in my trees looking in my windows and it's not just data collectors anymore, they have army, navy, marines, snipers and supervisers etc. I can't even think half the time to perform everyday tasks. Does anybody knows someone who could help me? My family livelihood and our sanity is being challenged...
Jun 9, 2013 12:17PM

I thought this kind things only happen in movie.  or they got the idea from movie?


All the citizens now has to live free or die hard.


I think I'm scared.  is there a satellite watching things in my house too ?

Jun 7, 2013 4:12PM
their everywhere, their everywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jun 29, 2013 4:16AM

saya jadi ingat lagu dari pitt bull this moment

Jun 9, 2013 2:01PM
Almost afraid to write anything!!  Really, NOT funny. NOT funny. This guy is so far out it's frightening now...
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