PRISM by the Numbers: A Guide to the Government’s Secret Internet Data-Mining Program

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Patrick Semansky / AP

The National Security Administration campus in Fort Meade, Md., on June 6, 2013.

One day after The Guardian revealed that the U.S. government has been secretly collecting call log data from millions of Verizon customers, The Washington Post reported Thursday that the government’s monitoring of American’s data goes much, much deeper. The FBI and the National Security Agency are mining the servers of the country’s biggest technology companies for the purpose of hunting spies and terrorists. The program, code-named PRISM, is massive in scope and involves web services that many Americans use every day.

To make all this shadowy surveillance easier to digest, here are the relevant data points about the massive data collection:

(MORE: 7 Things to Know About the Government’s Secret Database of Telephone Data)

9

The number of tech companies involved in the PRISM program. Here’s a list, from an NSA slideshow, including the date when monitoring began:

  • Microsoft (September 2007)
  • Yahoo (March 2008)
  • Google (January 2009)
  • Facebook (June 2009)
  • PalTalk (December 2009)
  • YouTube (September 2010)
  • Skype (February 2011)
  • AOL (March 2011)
  • Apple (October 2012)

So far Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo have flatly denied that they provide the government backdoor access to their services, according to a variety of news sources. Twitter, which says it has been particularly vigilant in protecting user data from government agencies, is notably absent from the list. Dropbox is next in line to be added to PRISM, according to the Post.

10

The number of different types of data that are collected through PRISM. E-mails, instant messages, videos, photos, stored data (likely items stored on cloud services like Google Drive), voice chats, file transfers, video conferences, log-in times, and social network profile details have all been monitored by the government. Through PRISM NSA officials can even conduct live surveillance of someone doing a Google search, according to the Post.

(MORE: The NSA Snooping Scoop: Behind the Guardian‘s Risky Plans for Global Expansion)

$20 million

The annual cost of PRISM, according to NSA documents obtained by the Post

2007

The year PRISM was established. The Post describes an “exponential growth” in the program since President Obama took office. The government has snooped on other forms of communication in recent years as well. On Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein confirmed that the NSA phone log database has been in place for at least seven years.

1,477

The number of times PRISM data was cited in 2012 as part of President Obama’s daily briefing, a high-level intelligence presentation given to the president, the vice president and select cabinet members. According to the Post, at least 1 in 7 intelligence reports from the NSA make use of PRISM data.

51%

Confidence level intelligence officials are supposed to have of a target’s “foreignness” to make use of PRISM data. The massive database is aimed at surveilling spies and foreign terrorists, not Americans. However, large amounts of American user data is also picked up as officials hunt for threats. The NSA describes this as “incidental.”

MORE: Verizon, Telephony Metadata, the National Security Agency and You

32 comments
Alexander.Dabney
Alexander.Dabney

We don't need to monitor our enemies cause the act itself creates suspicion and enemies with it.  We have the right to bear arms and form a militia.  Though I dont believe it was written for the intent to be used on an invading power it would be just as effective.  History has proven a native population cannot be conquered, so I'm not worried about attack from any country or terrorist. I'm more worried about our own government stripping us of privacy, and people allowing it cause there scared of the world.  After privacy, if they got rid of say our right to speak against them? how do you form a group big enough to oppose that kind of power without privacy to do so.


I dont trust my government, I dont blindly love my country either.  If someone is doing something wrong it is morally treasonable to the American public to not speak out against it. 

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin


chrissgx1
chrissgx1

Nothing new before PRISM there was ECHALON monitoring and surveillance tool used all around the World  spying on Europe, China , Russia and rest of the World. No phone call no Internet messaging is sacred all available to Governments and authority when needed. If you are law abiding citizen love your country and don't plan to harm anyone there is nothing to fear.



chrissgx1
chrissgx1

Nothing new before PRISM there was ECHALON monitoring and surveillance tool used all around the World  spying on Europe, China , Russia and rest of the World. No phone call no Internet messaging is sacred all available to Governments and authority when needed. If you are law abiding citizen love your country and don't plan to harm anyone there is nothing to fear.

GoodStuff
GoodStuff

Communication monitoring has been going on since the first telephone switchboards were install. It would gross negligence not to use a powerful tool that your adversaries or competitors use. Communication monitoring is never going to go away, it's here to stay. 

It's too cheap and easy.

jimpuckettbasel
jimpuckettbasel

@GoodStuff   Am I reading this from an American.   Am I really hearing you say that this is okay to conduct blanket warrantless searches in violation of the 4th Amendment?   Just because something can be done does not mean we have to legalize it. 

GoodStuff
GoodStuff

@jimpuckettbasel @GoodStuff 

Dude - thinking double (triple) edge sword

yes the fourth amendment is a problem/issue. However, the brothers can just farm it out , outside of America. Therefore, de-legalizing data mining will not change a thing

building a "concept" post - will post your friday morning - bookmarking this replay 

DaveReggie
DaveReggie

This article shows Obama's true colors. While acting like a liberal saviour, he has tried to demolish the Bill of Rights, attacking the First, Second and Fourth Amendments without respite.


Now he want to punish those who expose the truth, like Bradley Manning.

The US does NOT have 320 million citizens living in it, but 320 million suspects.

d.theriaque1961
d.theriaque1961

this is BS this has been done since what 50 years or more, and EVERY country does it. WAKE up people. STOP FOCUSING on the negative and trying to make the President look bad, this all started really getting heavy when the last administration fabricated a war for their personal agenda, to make billions off the war. the last administration fabricated everything THE REPUBLICANS are the ones who have killed the freedom as we know it today NOT the present Administration..

jimpuckettbasel
jimpuckettbasel

@d.theriaque1961 OMG this is not a partisan debate.   This is about our Constitution and Obama and Bush have proven to be willing to throw it in the worm bin of history.  I voted for Obama twice but if what is being said about PRISM is true, I would vote for his impeachment if I could.  

suddendepth
suddendepth

Time to cancel a few "free" accounts and set up some home based cloud services. When they get to the ISPs (if they haven't already) then we're all in trouble. I have no doubt that a list of dissidents on both the left and the right has been generated as a result of this.

Ana-ReneRuizBolton
Ana-ReneRuizBolton like.author.displayName 1 Like

Evidently, they got the authority to monitor in 2007 at the LATEST.  Determining what mediums to monitor is an ongoing process and they don't need to get new authority to add each one.  

Advertisers and others have been "listening" to us for years through our computers.  These "listeners" determine what pop-up ads you see even now.  Agreeing to allowing these listeners "track" you is the cost of signing up at many free websites.  We just don't think it important to read the fine print when we do.  We don't think anything sinister is going on either.  We've become accustomed to "key words" being highlighted and underlined on every page we visit, and we don't wonder why the ads we see curiously hawk the same items you've been looking at this past week, sometimes from the same stores.

I doubt the government is listening to Joe Smith's' weekly phone call to his grandpa Sam Smith, whether he lives in New York City or Tehran, Iran.  They're looking for anomalous patterns in the bigger picture.  There are 300 million people in the U.S.  There is no way individual data is being collected.  It's aggregate data than can be broken down incrementally to expose patterns.  It is today's technology that allows us to do this in as a non-intrusive manner as possible.  

Can the technology be misused?  Of course it can, and whoever leaked the fact that the information is being collected has created a black market for such information so that some misguided jerk-off, desperate for his 15 minutes of fame, can show us just how dangerous its misuse can be.  Of course, they're trying to discredit a presidency, not advertising malware via the internet which is far more intrusive and cause individuals far more problems maintaining efficient operation of their computers.

luscus111
luscus111 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Since they will never tell us how many plots have been thwarted to commit acts of terrorism on US soil (and they don't because they would be giving away how they did it), Since they won't tell us how many "terrorist" they  have assassinated with boots on the ground and drones, we have to take it on faith that the US government is protecting our freedom albeit quietly and secretly, because "YOU CANT HANDLE THE TRUTH, YOU NEED ME ON THAT WALL, YOU WANT ME ON THAT WALL, SO PLEASE JUST SAY THANK YOU".  

This is not news to me, just a clarification on how exactly they violate our rights and will continue to do so, you know why?

Since 9/11 the powers of a police state have done nothing more than grow, and if you piss them off in any way, or become a challenge to their status quo YOU WILL BE PUT AWAY.

Despite all that compared to my birth country (Venezuela) this USA is still a paradise, and your freedoms are much greater and better protected than most countries in the world, that is not to say that they are not violated all the time.


citesteasta
citesteasta

This does not come as a surprize...you think you are free? you are not !

jefferysikes911
jefferysikes911

Americans voted for known Marxist/Leninist to run their Federal Government and then act surprised when those Marxist/Leninist take up tyrannical acts against them.   What did you think these Marxist/Leninist would do?  Why do you think they wanted charge of your health care?   Think of how Goebbels and Himmler would have use data mining operation such to find what it considered political adversaries,  who usually wound up in extermination camps like: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec,  Kulmhof, Dachau, Jasenovac, Janowska,  Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibor, Treblinka or Warsaw.

Remember the 3rd Reich was a National Socialist (Marxist based) system.  Many of those currently under the US Democratic party hide behind a mask called leftist or liberal, these are not liberals they are Zealot Marxist/Leninist’s.   Their actions are identical to those taken historically by Marxist/Leninist based groups, including the use of ideological subversion.   The takeover of privately held assets and activities occurring now in America, is identical to the actions of the Socialist 3rd Reich. 

The stories just being released of the IRS, Justice Department and NSA targeting key American groups is only the beginning of the nightmare to come.  America is in grave danger and needs to focus on fixing this now or it will experience the same pain as Germany did during WWII.

luscus111
luscus111

@jefferysikes911 Sooooo, your contention is that both republicans and democrats alike are Marxist, Leninist?

 And that Nazis and Communist are one and the same thing? Wow I'm impressed with both your logic, and knowledge of history, I think you should start a blog or something....

JodiCarroll
JodiCarroll

@luscus111  - You have presented neither a solidly logical retort nor a demonstration of historical knowledge yourself.  Those who live in glass houses...

jachym.lukes
jachym.lukes like.author.displayName 1 Like

OK, so is it considered normal to spy other nations? It shows, how US think about itself as "supreme" nation in the world and others as some lowlife. Really disgusting.

ShaolinTurbo
ShaolinTurbo

Makes me wonder about the MS Windows backdoor theories.

iluv9mm
iluv9mm like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I woill be boycotting all listed companies.

YourDad
YourDad

@iluv9mm Oh that will show them.  Better get off the internet.  The companies that you are boycotting have a little something to do with the internet.  Tweet that...Facebook it...use your web browser to tell someone else of your master plan.

Narthur
Narthur

@YourDad @iluv9mm Whether or not it would be effective, boycotting the listed companies is certainly doable. Run a home-built linux system, use DuckDuckGo for search, etc. Anyway, the sad fact is that these companies were probably forced into giving the Government back doors. Is swatting the hands of these companies really the solution? I think not. The problem is our Government. (And, perhaps people's general growing unconcern over privacy, too...)

judefolly
judefolly like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

All the outrage will produce no coordinated action to reverse this course of events. Hasn't it struck anyone that almost every act of Congress is designed to enrich the clients of elected officials? This also includes Nat'l Security legislation--all that fancy data mining and surveillance technology and no one to use it on--what a shame to let it go to waste!

Voters are losing the battle for influence vs. elite, wealthy interests; citizens are not coordinated enough to demand an end to legalized bribery, aka our campaign finance system.

There's a time and place for outrage, but seeing as these abuses of power were granted by Congress a decade ago and no one minded, outrage is useless now.

We need to have an honsest conversation with one another about campaign finance accountability. There's no better time than now, and no more suitable destination for said conversation than the 2016 presidential election.

Please click and sign up at the following link to join the conversation:

http://pac.petitions.moveon.org/sign/hillary-in-16-pac-political

GhostOfSteveJobs
GhostOfSteveJobs

There's something real strange here-- it seems Microsoft was first to market with spy solutions, and Apple was last.  


So Can we draw a conclusion that while Microsoft was selling your data and privacy to the Government, that this became why Apple became better?



kuei12
kuei12

If you have not yet figured out that the US government is preparing for war against americans, there is no hope for you. How many of you STILL believe Obama is on your side? He is worse than Bush.

JoeBlowZCUI
JoeBlowZCUI like.author.displayName 1 Like

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" 

.

- Patrick Henry 

.

Christ.

.

These vermin need to be voted out. Now.

.

They should also be tried for crimes against humanity--and yes, at this point, I would consider blanket surveillance of perhaps the ***ENTIRE US POPULATION*** to be a crime against humanity. It is the behaviour of a police state.

.

They should burn for this. All of them should burn.

golitly
golitly like.author.displayName 1 Like

@JoeBlowZCUI I agree with you about P Henry, but considering Boston, I don't think were getting anything for the trade.

givemeabreak
givemeabreak like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

So these companies were publicly fighting SOPA and CISPA with blackouts and whatnot while secretly shovelling data via PRISM? I don't understand why none of these companies had the integrity or guts to stand up and resist this. They KNEW the public would hate this. 

For search, switch from Google to DuckDuckGo. 

For social networking, switch from Facebook to Zurker. 

For email, switch from Hotmail/Yahoo to Hushmail. 

bodane
bodane

I've had a conversation with Google search before that's was a bad trip.

DipDog3
DipDog3

Sorry, but this is clearly a hoax.
PRISM is just way too good at collecting and processing data to be true. Especially for the low price of only $20 million/year. When have you ever known the government do anything that cheaply???  

duduong
duduong like.author.displayName 1 Like

No wonder the Chinese claim that the US is the real number 1 hacker of the world.