Tech Companies Set Up Spy Rooms for the Government

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obama knows what you did last summer

Photo of Obama motioning us to be silent

More information is coming out about PRISM, the government’s spy program that includes extensive spying on Americans. People have differing opinions on it and the issue is bipartisan. The story in the end is not only about PRISM and the Patriot Act. It is also about the out-of-control government in charge of it.

Worse yet, at least two companies are making it easy for the government to go through Internet data, data even the UK gets to read.

Despite their earlier claims to the contrary, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Google, did give the government access to user information and were even in talks to set up reading rooms – secure portals – for government agents.

UK agents are also being given some of the data.

Zuckerberg and Page said there was no ‘backdoor access’ for the government. That’s true, it’s actually more than that. They were setting up a lockbox to which the government had a key.

As many as 50 major companies including credit companies might be providing information.

The government needs to use this tool in the fight against terror – I can buy that – however, they not only make specific requests, but they make broad sweeping requests without any specific target. They are going on fishing expeditions with warrantless searches and they are growing bolder. Last year, according to the New York Times, there were 1,856 such requests, representing a 6% increase from the year before.

The government gets some information in real time if they request it.

Tech companies used to safeguard user information and resist government overreach but now they facilitate it.

Whenever I wonder if they have gone too far, I think of the Lois Lerners and the Douglas Shulmans.

Companies must hand over information to the government under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act but they are not compelled to make it easy.

Targeted data mining began under the Bush administration but it was targeted, always included foreign contacts, and there were no sweeps or dragnets. The program appears to have been greatly accelerated. Perhaps our concerns should accelerate proportionately.

PRISM data-mining was approved by the FISA court in 2007. The administration said it’s an effective way to alert the government to possible terror attacks.

The government is fighting efforts by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to get a copy of the FISA court opinion. EFF can’t even get a redacted version.

Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and PalTalk are all involved in the spying program but Twitter has resisted.

The leak came from an intelligence officer who gave the media data on a 41-page slide presentation about PRISM.

Congress has approved the spying program.

The Washington Post reported on Friday that for the last six years, the government has been pulling videos, e-mails, audio, documents, et al to track peoples’ movements and contacts. They conduct sweeps in which millions of Americans have been caught up.

President Obama said on Friday that the programs have plenty of checks in place, including repeated authorizations by Congress and approval by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court, to assure no abuses by the government.

‘Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,’ President Obama said. ‘That’s not what this program’s about.’

The government is looking through a billion phone calls a day to put some perspective on this. They are not allowed to go into the data without a court order but there are the Lois Lerners in our government who will go into the data. Therein lies the biggest problem.

If you trust your government then move on, there’s nothing for you here. If you are more skeptical, then consider the possibility of 4th Amendment problems and budding tyranny. More government transparency would be helpful because we don’t know the details of what is going on.

It is curious that our president has said the war on terror is over but he feels the need to spy on as many as 115 million American citizens.

Full story at the NY Times

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