Tech Industry Could Pay Stiff Price for PRISM

Technology firms in the United States might be impacted adversely by the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program.

Classified documents about the program leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian indicate that major U.S. high-tech companies — including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo and Skype (now owned by Microsoft) — provide it data. This data is the major source of raw intelligence for the NSA’s analytical reports, according to the agency.

The leaked documents indicate that 98 percent of the data collected by PRISM comes from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

All three, along with other technology companies, have denied involvement.

“We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers,” Joe Sullivan, chief security officer at Facebook, told TechNewsWorld.

When the company receives requests for information about specific individuals, it scrutinizes them carefully and provides information “only to the extent required by law,” he said.

That’s pretty much the party line for all the companies named.

It’s possible that tech companies may lose revenue as a consequence of their participation with PRISM.

“Access to information by the U.S. government on any communications platform can kill sales for that platform outside of the U.S.,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “That’s one of the reasons we can’t sell a telecom switch in most countries, for instance.”

Shining a Light on PRISM

PRISM has been authorized by U.S. federal judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

This Act, aka the “warrantless wiretapping bill,” was renewed in September despite concerns expressed in Congress. It allows the U.S. to target any customers of participating corporations who live outside the U.S., as well as American citizens communicating with people overseas, and it reportedly lets the NSA collect emails, video and voice chats, photos, videos, conversations over voice over IP (VoIP) connections, file transfers, login notifications, and information from social networking websites.

The leaked documents state that direct access to the servers of the NSA’s corporate partners is 100 percent dependent on Internet service provider provisioning.

They also say Dropbox will join the program, which will expand its collection services from existing partners. Dropbox reportedly has denied any involvement with the program.

News of the existence of PRISM is one more indication of the NSA’s increasing activity and influence. Last year, the agency began building the largest spy center in the U.S. in Bluffdale, Utah.

“Americans, in response to the terrorist threats, did not generally contest agencies’ invasions of privacy and generally went along for the ride,” Raymond Van Dyke, principal at Van Dyke Law, told TechNewsWorld. “Now we learn that our spymasters are spying and we are shocked? That horse left the barn a long time ago.”

Freedom and Liberty

Claims by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and other companies that they are not working with PRISM could be correct, because the program “can go right around tech companies and pull data from network providers like Verizon, and it’s supported by U.S. domestic laws,” Enderle said.

When given a request for information from the NSA, companies “really don’t have much choice, given the massive power of the Patriot Act,” he added.

Twitter apparently isn’t involved with PRISM because the program’s probably pulling from network traffic and focuses largely on call activity, Enderle suggested. “Twitter is so public anyway that you likely don’t need an invasive tool like PRISM to get the information you need.”

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