PRISM: the NSA is watching…the whole world.


This week’s revelations in The Guardian and Washington Post about PRISM, the United States’ National Security Agency’s top secret global internet surveillance program are extremely alarming. The leaked information suggests that the NSA has ‘direct access’ to the systems of the majority of the most popular online services on the planet, including Google (including Youtube), Facebook, Hotmail, Yahoo!, Apple and Skype, allowing them to access content and communications in real time.

Though the availability of information from each provider is said to vary, it claims to include:

  • emails
  • live chat, including video and voice
  • videos
  • photos
  • stored data
  • VoIP calls
  • file transfers
  • video conferencing
  • logins
  • online social networking details

As The Guardian explains,

The NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.

The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.

It also opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants.

Despite strong denials from many of the companies named in the leaked information, the US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has confirmed that the program exists, while alleging that the reports “contain numerous inaccuracies”. He does not elaborate on what those inaccuracies may be. He does confirm however that, “only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted”.

While it’s therefore unclear at this point exactly how the PRISM program is accessing data, it does appear to be clear that this represents the largest mass surveillance scheme in history.

The Guardian has also revealed that the UK’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, has been receiving information gathered through the PRISM program about British citizens.

Given the close working relationship between Australian and US intelligence agencies, it is therefore reasonable to presume that Australian intelligence agencies have also been receiving information gathered through the PRISM program about Australian citizens.

If this is true, it represents an outrageous affront to the privacy and civil liberties of all Australians, and the Australian government must inform the Australian people about what they knew of these surveillance activities. It is not acceptable to hide behind the standard line that the government does not ‘comment on national security and intelligence capabilities’, which has been the Attorney-General’s initial response.

Coming in the wake of the revelations about ASIC’s inept actions to block scam websites, resulting in some 251,000 ‘innocent’ websites also being blocked, and the imminent release of a report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is expected to recommend the introduction of mandatory retention of internet and telecommunications data affecting all Australians, internet freedom and privacy are under possibly the greatest threat ever in Australia.

EFA has been fighting for digital freedom, access and privacy in Australia for nearly 20 years. We need your support now to continue to fight for these rights as much as ever.

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