Director of National Intelligence Defends PRISM and NSA


Big brother is watching you. But apparently we already knew that and it was totally authorized by Congress this whole time. Does that mean it’s okay?

An official statement has been issued by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper regarding the “surveillance activities” performed by the NSA and the United States government. He reiterates that these activities “are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress. Their purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber attacks against the United States and its allies.”

He says that the reason why the particulars have been kept secret is that they don’t want to “give our enemies a ‘playbook’ on how to avoid detection.” As such, “not all the inaccuracies can be corrected without further revealing classified information.” Even so, some more information was released today (PDF link) about the nature of PRISM.

PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program. It is an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (50 U.S.C. § 1881a). This authority was created by the Congress and has been widely known and publicly discussed since its inception in 2008.

Under Section 702 of FISA, the United States Government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers. All such information is obtained with FISA Court approval and with the knowledge of the provider based upon a written directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

And they’re apparently not going around monitoring everyone per se, because the “Government cannot target anyone under the court-approved procedures for Section 702 collection unless there is an appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition. In addition, Section 702 cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, or any other U.S. person, or to intentionally target any person known to be in the United States.”

Even though all sorts of telecommunications and online communications channels have opened up their data for the NSA’s perusal, Twitter is still holding back. Interestingly, several other companies say they have no knowledge of PRISM and the data mining either, including Apple and AOL, whereas others — like Facebook — say that when they are asked for specific information, they “carefully scrutinise any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”

What do you think of PRISM and everything we’ve learned about it recently? Should we be truly worried, or not? Share your thoughts below.

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