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NSA, FBI mining data directly from major Internet companies, report says

Jaikumar Vijayan | June 9, 2013
Data from Microsoft, Facebook, Google servers is being accessed, Washington Post claims.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company provides customer data to the government only when it receives a legally binding order or subpoena and "never on a voluntary basis."

"In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it," the spokeswoman said.

The PRISM program operates in parallel with another program code-named BLARNEY that apparently is designed to gather metadata, such as IP addresses and device signatures from "choke points" on the Internet, the Post noted.

The story did not offer details on what or where those choke points might be or whether any of the companies in the PRISM program are tapped for the metadata as well. Neither did it make clear if data from the BLARNEY program is combined with data collected from PRISM. The story did however note that the BLARNEY data collection program leverages commercial partnerships to gain access to the metadata.

The Post report comes after a dramatic story on Wednesday by The Guardian about the NSA collecting records of all domestic and international phone calls made by Verizon customers since at least this April. The Guardian report has already ignited a massive uproar and the Post report is almost certain to fuel the concerns even further.

While details of the PRISM program are new, the FBI and other intelligence agencies have in the past made no secret of their desire to monitor traffic on Facebook and other sites for signs of terrorist activity.

Last year, the FBI published a request for information where it sought technology that would help it quickly gather and analyze data posted on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and on blogs using simple keyword searches and phrases such as "bomb," "suspicious package," "white powder," "active shoot" and "school lock down."

Earlier this year, the FBI confirmed that it is part of an interagency group considering a plan that would make it easier for U.S. law enforcement agencies to legally spy on real-time communications carried on by suspects over Internet-based services such as webmail, peer-to-peer services like chat, and social networks.

The FBI in the past has described the lack of easy access to real-time communications on online networks as the "Going Dark" problem. It is a term it has used to describe the growing gap between the government's authority to conduct legal surveillance and its ability to actually do so. The interagency group that the FBI is part of is pushing for legislation that would force Internet companies to build backdoors that would make it easier for the government to snoop on real-time communications over the Internet.


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