In a bombshell scoop, the Washington Post is reporting that the National Security Agency (NSA) has gained direct access to the servers of nine prominent Internet companies, enabling the spy agency to track e-mails, photographs, and video, among other forms of digital communciation.
The highly classified program, known as PRISM, has emerged as a central tool in the NSA’s arsenal and, according to documents detailing the program’s operation, is run with the assistance of the Silicon Valley tech companies it targets. The exposure of the program — which was also reported by the Guardian — is the latest in a string of reports detailing government snooping that have reignited the debate in Washington over the proper balance between privacy and national security.
To put that debate in perspective, here’s how PRISM stacks up by the numbers based on what we’ve learned today:
1,477: The number of times data obtained via PRISM has been cited in the president’s daily intelligence briefing.
1 in 7: The proportion of NSA intelligence reports using raw material from PRISM.
77,000: The number of intelligence reports that have cited PRISM.
2,000: The number of PRISM-based reports issued per month.
24,005: The number of PRISM-based reports issued in 2012 alone, which was a 27 percent increase from the previous year.
9: The number of tech companies whose servers NSA has access to via PRISM.
6: The number of years PRISM has been in operation.
2: The number of presidential administrations PRISM has operated under.
51 percent: The minimum confidence of a target’s "foreignness" when an NSA analyst uses PRISM.
248 percent: The increase in 2012 in the number of Skype communications intercepted via PRISM
131 percent: The increase in 2012 in PRISM requests for Facebook data.
63 percent: The increase in 2012 in PRISM requests for Google data.
$20 million: The annual cost of PRISM.
$8 billion: The estimated annual budget of the NSA.
35,000 to 55,000: The estimated number of employees at the NSA.
0: The number of times Twitter has agreed to participate in PRISM.
1: The number of ad campaigns by Microsoft, the first company to agree to participate in PRISM, in which the company declares "your privacy is our priority."
Here’s that ad:
Shane Harris is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering intelligence and cyber security. He is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State, which chronicles the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010. Shane is the winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He has four times been named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which honor the best journalists in America under the age of 35. Prior to joining Foreign Policy, he was the senior writer for The Washingtonian and a staff correspondent at National Journal.| Investigation |