The director of U.S. intelligence denied on Saturday that the federal government's secretive program to monitor Internet users “unilaterally” obtains information from the servers of online providers.
“PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said of the program, The Hill reports
Clapper released new details on PRISM in light of news reports this week that the government was monitoring the Internet activity of regular citizens.
“It is an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government's statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)," he said.
Internet companies, he said, provide user data to the National Security Agency only after receiving an order approved by the secret FISA court.
Those courts only approve such requests if a "foreign intelligence purpose" exists and if the target is "reasonably believed" to be outside of the United States, Clapper said in a statement published by the Hill.
"In short, Section 702 facilitates the targeted acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning foreign targets located outside the United States under court oversight," Clapper said. “Service providers supply information to the Government when they are lawfully required to do so."
Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other Internet providers denied news reports on Thursday that they allowed the NSA to tap directly into their servers to obtain user data.
But the companies have acknowledged that they must provide user data in response to FISA court orders. They cannot discuss or even acknowledge the existence of the orders, the Hill reports.
According to news reports, PRISM reportedly gives the NSA access to the contents of emails, video chats, photographs, and other information.
"Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday in a blog post.
The FISA courts require certain "targeting and minimization procedures" to limit the amount of information incidentally collected about people in the United States, Clapper said.
His office has provided Congress with "exhaustive semiannual" reports on its activities, he said.
Further, Clapper claimed the program had provided "insight into terrorist networks and plans," had helped to combat cyberattacks and had "significantly contributed to successful operations to impede the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related technology."
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