Last week, amidst confusion and anonymity, The Guardian Newspaper released a series of top-secret presentation slides referring to a previously unknown computer program run by the NSA. This program, designed to bypass online privacy laws, has gained access to private and personal data held by many of the major web companies since 2007 – it is called Prism.
Effectively, this program is able to snoop through emails, search data and all other digital communications without first requisitioning it via court order. It would seem that the American government has completely abandoned any respect for the privacy laws of its constitution and the offending internet companies have disregarded their own privacy policies, in favour of becoming NSA pets.
Alleviating privacy concerns is a primary mission for all of the web’s major players. Yet this privacy scandal is far bigger than Google, Facebook or any of the other offending parties have ever dealt with before. It cuts to the very core of people’s online privacy concerns.
Is This The End Of Online Privacy As We Know It?
Out of the 41 top-secret slides handed to The Guardian by Edward Snowden, 5 have now been released. After the initial 4 slides were published on Thursday, another was released on Saturday. This supported some of the evidence levied against the government and the internet giants involved.
What The Slide Says
Data is collected directly from the servers of the following companies: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.
There is further private data mined via access to fiber cables – the infrastructure of the internet.
The NSA are using both of these resources simultaneously to mine data from online communications.
In the initial instance this looks like pretty damning evidence that proves that the these internet companies are allowing data to be taken ‘directly from their servers’. However, the claim that this is happening with the knowledge of these businesses has been furiously denied by nearly all of the parties concerned.
Apple immediately issued a press release denying any knowledge of the Prism program. This refute was quickly followed by statements from Google and Facebook venomously denying any involvement or knowledge of program. Yahoo and Microsoft also issued statements denying any knowledge of the program.
What The Companies Said
Facebook is not and has never been part of any programme to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers,” he maintained. “We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn’t even heard of PRISM before yesterday. [link]
First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday. [link]
Both of these rebuttals do not appear to be the words of guilty businesses trying to cover their backs; their are no concessions to ambiguity here. If it ever does come to light that either of these parties are guilty of complicity in Prism then these comments could very well land them in jail.
At this stage we can only guess as to whom is responsible for these monumental breaches in privacy. But lets face it, although it feels good to postulate on who’s to blame, In the end it doesn’t really matter.
Google, Facebook, Microsoft and the rest of the motley crew that account for almost 90% of all our time spent online are guilty of one of the following allegations:
They are complicit in allowing the NSA into their servers, allowing them to search freely through private data
They know what is happening, but have plausibly deniable in their understanding of the Prism program
Their servers are not secure enough to resist an open hack from the American Government
Whichever turns out to be the truth the fact still remains: Our private data is not safe with any of the organisations mentioned in the leak. Either we accept this fact, move past it and continue our relationships with the internet giants. Or we disconnect from them completely and find new alternative ways to interact with each other online.