US government has “tapped directly into international fiber optic internet cables”, does not have direct access to tech company servers


When details on the NSA’s secret surveillance program called PRISM first emerged, much of the fear stemmed from the idea that the government had “direct access” to the servers of major tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple. Many of the companies unsurprisingly denied allegations of direct access to their users’ data. And now that some of the more hyperbolic claims regarding PRISM have been refuted, new details from the Associated Press bring us another step closer to understanding this entire mess.

According to the AP, “more than a dozen current and former government and technology officials and outside experts” have confirmed to them that PRISM is a mechanism to help concentrate the large amount of information the NSA is gathering. In other words, NSA doesn’t necessarily have direct access to the servers of tech companies but rather have the ability to request user data from tech companies based on information NSA has gathered.

So now the question is, what information is the NSA gathering and where is it coming from? The AP report says that the NSA is “tapping directly into international fiber optic cables and collecting all that information.” PRISM is then used to help narrow down all that information by the NSA making data requests for specific targets to companies, which they must comply with.

When the NSA determines a target, they then contact the relevant company, like Google or Facebook for example, so they can “pinpoint” the suspect. Here are a few more details from the AP report:

If eavesdroppers spot a suspicious e-mail among the torrent of data pouring into the United States, analysts can use information from Internet companies to pinpoint the user.

With Prism, the government gets a user’s entire email inbox. Every e-mail, including contacts with American citizens, becomes government property.

Once the NSA has an inbox, it can search its huge archives for information about everyone with whom the target communicated. All those people can be investigated, too.

Meanwhile, over in Hong Kong, the now infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden is receiving support from the city’s residents. Organizers of a rally to show support for Snowden drew in around 900 protestors who called for the Hong Kong government to support him. Here are some statements from the protestors, who were interviewed by the South China Morning Post:

“What has happened has shown us that the US is spying on the whole world.”

“We are marching for Snowden to let him know that he is not alone.”

“I think Snowden has told us the truth and we have a responsibility to protect his core values.”

Additionally, Snowden revealed to the  South China Morning Post that the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009 — a move that will undoubtedly bring him even more local support in his fight against the US government.

[via APArs Technica, image via Matt Champlin]

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  • sl0j0n

    Hello, all, especially our ‘friends’ at the ATF, CIA, FBI, NSA, & the rest of the alphabet. Most people don’t seem to realize that the issue isn’t *really* about “security”; its about MONEY!
    Billions of dollars at stake. The people who stand to make a chamber pot of money on this are *not* ‘interested’ in *your* rights.
    Believe it, or not. Mr. Edward Snowden, reportedly a high-school drop-out, Army drop-out, & a college drop-out, was making $140K / year?
    Isn’t that more than most here make?
    Its lots more than my wife and I make. [*Not* complaining, just sayin’.] At least 2 prominent “former” officials interviewed about this are now “vice-presidents” of commercial enterprises. Don’tcha think that there’s a reason people leave ‘government’ jobs for the private sector?
    Just more proof that we *need* The King!

    Have a GREAT day, neighbors!

  • sl0j0n

    Hello, all,
    especially our ‘friends’ at the ATF, CIA,
    FBI, NSA, & the rest of the alphabet.
    Is this *really* ‘news’?
    Because in 1997,
    “Carnivore” was doing something similar.
    Can you say “ECHELON”?
    It was an earlier version of what is now called “PRISM”,
    although they don’t seem to work the same.
    Here’s an idea;
    *IF* [like there’s a chance they aren’t] the ‘government’ is spying on Americans,
    maybe they could start giving CONgress updates on the Doj,
    AG Holder, the IRS, the EPA,
    and other agencies that are apparently practicing partisan political harassment thru “official” channels.
    Just more proof that we need The King!

    Have a GREAT day, neighbors”

  • Mike

    From a news analysis report a number of years ago, near to where the int’l Pacific data cable comes in to the mainland U.S. in the San Francisco/Northern California area, the NSA essentially taps it in the carrier’s entry point in an office building in downtown San Francisco in a special equipment office set up for that purpose, essentially making a duplicate of all the entering data. Presumably, other data cables, on the East Coast of the U.S. and otherwise, are being treated similarly.