In 2006, former AT&T technician Mark Klein described in federal court papers how a "splitter" device in San Francisco siphoned millions of Americans' Internet traffic to the NSA. That probably included data sent to or from AT&T Internet subscribers, such as emails and the websites they visited.-- What you should know about NSA phone data program
I've actually seen one of these devices with my own eyes, at note.com's server colocation facility in Conshohocken. It was placed right at the point where the physical communication lines came into the building, so that it could tap all inbound and outbound traffic for thousands of servers. I was very tempted on several occasions to accidentally spill coffee into the rather large device, but knew that doing so would result in a quick one-way trip to prison, not to mention disrupt all of said traffic.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada played down the significance of the revelation.-- Monumental phone-records monitoring is laid bare
"Everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn't anything that's brand new," he said. "This is a program that's been in effect for seven years, as I recall. It's a program that has worked to prevent not all terrorism but certainly the vast, vast majority. Now is the program perfect? Of course not."
But privacy advocates said the scope of the program was indefensible.
"This confirms our worst fears," said Alexander Abdo, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "If the government can track who we call," he said, "the right to privacy has not just been compromised — it has been defeated."
Microsoft was the first to participate in the program, reports The Guardian:-- Google, Facebook and Apple Are All Giving Your Actual Data to the FedsIt was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.
PRISM allegedly involves data collection by the FBI, the fruits of which are then relayed to the NSA. If the report is true, the surveillance scandal will have crossed from simple metadata and envelope surveillance into the realm of wiretapping, which by definition involves the collection of actual content.
A Google spokesman said the company does not have "a 'back door'" for the government to access user data.-- Internet Companies Deny Offering Government Access to Customer Data
"Google cares deeply about the security of our users' data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully," a spokesman said in a statement. "From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a 'back door' for the government to access private user data."
Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo also denied participating in a broad program to collect data.