In 48 hours of leaks we went from the NSA collecting meta-data on practically every phone call in the United States to the revelation of an overarching Internet surveillance scheme called PRISM, which collects data wholesale from nine major US Internet content providers.
And I can’t say enough about how horrible that is. I mean, literally everyone reading this is certain to have some sort of data exchange with the PRISM nine. For me, I do some of my work on an Apple computer, and Apples in on it. I use linux for stuff too, but it doesn’t matter that this is secure because I do all of my email at Gmail, communicate with coworkers on AOL Instant Messanger, use Google as a search engine for research. All that stuff is still getting swept up.
Some of that stuff is just unavoidable too – if you stop using Google Search what are you going to use? Yahoo is in on this, and so is Microsoft (Bing). That’s pretty much it for competent English-language search engines in 2013.
As of last night though there was a lot of speculation surrounding the creepily specific denials of companies that they aren’t providing “direct access,” with Business Insider talking about broad eavesdropping as allowing them to get away with only “passive” compliance from these companies being the most plausible explanation.
Except it gets worse.
Turns out the Business Insider indirect data collection is a whole ‘nother series of programs the NSA is running, that are distinct from PRISM.
Guardian has leaked another (partially redacted) slide on the matter, and it turns out all those claims by Google, Facebook et al. of not giving the NSA direct access are something distinct from legalese. Something we can call, for the sake of clarity, flat out lies. Here’s what the NSA’s top secret document says:
Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple
The partially redacted part talks about Upstream collection of data through the basic communications infrastructure of the Internet, listing four programs that do this (two are blacked out), and admonishes NSA analysts viewing the presentation “You Should Use Both.”
So the well, well over 90% of data that was being culled in PRISM wasn’t even the end of the story, and four other programs exist that are likely sweeping up likely most of the rest of it.
Big Brother would be lucky to be half this efficient, and its probably time to retire the term “Orwellian,” since that level of information awareness is starting to look quaint compared to the grim reality we’re now facing.