Intelligence Program Gives US Government Direct Access to Customer Data on Apple Servers [Update: Apple Denies]

NewImageThe Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers are reporting on a top secret intelligence program that gives the U.S. National Security Agency direct access to user data on corporate servers across a wide spectrum of Internet companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.

Apple reportedly joined the program in 2012, though Microsoft has been involved since 2007. It is unknown how or why Apple resisted joining the program for five years, nor why it decided to join in 2012. Twitter is noticeably absent from the list of companies, while Dropbox is said to be "coming soon".

Update: An Apple spokesperson gave this statement to AllThingsD:

We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.

Longtime Apple board member and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore tweeted earlier: "In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?"

Data from the program, code-named PRISM, is frequently used in the President's Daily Brief -- a daily intelligence report for the U.S. President -- with PDB briefings citing PRISM data 1,477 times last year. The Post reports that data from PRISM accounts for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.

From The Washington Post:

PRISM is an heir, in one sense, to a history of intelligence alliances with as many as 100 trusted U.S. companies since the 1970s. The NSA calls these Special Source Operations, and PRISM falls under that rubric.

The Silicon Valley operation works alongside a parallel program, code-named BLARNEY, that gathers up “metadata” — address packets, device signatures and the like — as it streams past choke points along the backbone of the Internet. BLARNEY’s top-secret program summary, set down alongside a cartoon insignia of a shamrock and a leprechaun hat, describes it as “an ongoing collection program that leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.”

Prism
Theoretically, the program is used to obtain data on foreign operatives, but it is possible for the NSA to scoop up untold amounts of data related to American citizens as well.

Apple's privacy policy does make allowances for this sort of disclosure to the authorities:

It may be necessary − by law, legal process, litigation, and/or requests from public and governmental authorities within or outside your country of residence − for Apple to disclose your personal information. We may also disclose information about you if we determine that for purposes of national security, law enforcement, or other issues of public importance, disclosure is necessary or appropriate.

The Washington Post and Guardian stories contain much more about PRISM, including slides from a PowerPoint presentation outlining the program that is classified TOP SECRET.

The Guardian reported earlier today that the National Security Agency is collecting call logs from Verizon Business Network Services "on an ongoing daily basis" on all calls "between the United States and abroad" or "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." The data includes "the numbers of both parties on a call […], as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls".

Update 7:41 PM: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has issued a press release noting that the Washington Post and Guardian reports contain "numerous inaccuracies" and indicating that any data collection is limited to non-U.S. citizens located outside of the United States.

Section 702 is a provision of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.

Activities authorized by Section 702 are subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. They involve extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the comment thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All MacRumors forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
97 months ago
Can even the most (blind) and denying loyal Obama followers admit: Obama dun goofed.

Between this and Verizon, AP tapping, Benghazi coverups (don't bother overexaggerating it, it was a 9/11 off shore, even on 9/11, but anyways...) that has whistleblowers jobs threatened from coming forward, awesome sauce, NDAA to allow indefinite detention of prisoners WITHOUT due process signed on New Year's Eve when Obama promised to veto it, the politically discrimating IRS, whose head visited WH 157 times (of course Obama knew about it, you thought he learned about it when mainstream media reported it? He is president, come on, he was/is in on it), electing Rice as a national security adviser, THIS IS INSANE.

something needs to be done immediately. I don't think the American people can be afford to be passive anymore.

He is not a democrat. he is something straight out of 1984.
Score: 56 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
97 months ago

It is unknown how or why Apple resisted joining the program for five years, nor why it decided to join in 2012.

What do you bet that Steve Jobs and Tim Cook had differing opinions about cooperating with the program?
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
97 months ago
First off....Google's a bunch of freaking liars. Flatly denied any involvement in any sort of program like this earlier this year.

Secondly...is anyone really surprised? The Internet is a great tool, but any sort of sense of privacy erodes away more and more each day. We store a lot of data on other people's servers and do it in the name of convenience without giving it much of a thought. We are now seeing what we all really should have seen coming....that our convenience comes at a price.

9-11 was a terrible day and one that undoubtedly left a scar. We made a lot of mistakes in the aftermath that we would be best served to undo, starting with the Patriot Act. Ketchup may be too far out of the bottle at this point though.
Score: 40 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
97 months ago
Ironic, considering the US Govt. is one of the least trust worthy organisations. Ever.
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
97 months ago
Boston shows that this is all worthless ********.
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
97 months ago

Tomorrow's headline news .......

New Terror Attack
Why didn't our government do enough?


So we should sacrifice our basic right to privacy and live in a weirdo surveillance police state just so we can..ahem, "prevent" the occasional terrorist attack? Millions more die from cancer, etc., yet Americans can't even agree on a decent healthcare system. Yet very rare terrorist attacks are enough to make us willingly hand over our privacy?

And how effective is such surveillance anyhow? It doesn't seem all that effective.
Score: 35 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Early iPhone 12 Tests Show Ceramic Shield is Stronger and More Scratch Resistant Than iPhone 11 Glass

Friday October 23, 2020 1:21 pm PDT by
Apple's new iPhone 12 models are protected by a Ceramic Shield cover glass that has nano-ceramic crystals infused right into the glass to improve durability. According to Apple, Ceramic Shield offers four times better drop protection than the glass used for the iPhone 11 models. YouTube channel MobileReviewsEh conducted some tests on the iPhone 12 using a force meter to compare its performance ...

iPhone 12 Pro Allows You to Measure Someone's Height Instantly Using LiDAR Scanner

Saturday October 24, 2020 11:12 am PDT by
iPhone 12 Pro models feature a new LiDAR Scanner for enhanced augmented reality experiences, but the sensor also enables another unique feature: the ability to measure a person's height instantly using the Measure app. You can even measure the seated height of a person in a chair, according to Apple. When the Measure app detects a person in the viewfinder, it automatically measures their...

Google Reportedly Pays Apple $8-12 Billion Per Year to be Default iOS Search Engine

Sunday October 25, 2020 2:59 pm PDT by
The United States Justice Department is targeting a lucrative deal between Apple and Google as part of one of the U.S. government's largest antitrust cases, reports The New York Times. On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, claiming the Mountain View-based company used anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and advertising markets to ...

Apple References Unreleased 2020 16-Inch MacBook Pro in Boot Camp Update

Monday October 26, 2020 8:42 am PDT by
Last week, Apple released an update for Boot Camp, its utility for running Windows on a Mac. While this update would typically be unremarkable, several of our readers noticed that the release notes reference an unreleased 2020 model of the 16-inch MacBook Pro. While this could easily be a mistake, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is nearly a year old, so it is certainly a worthy candidate for a...

Apple Warns MagSafe Charger Can Leave Circular Imprints on Leather Cases

Friday October 23, 2020 3:23 pm PDT by
If you keep your iPhone in a leather case while charging with Apple's new MagSafe Charger, the case might show circular imprints from contact with the accessory, according to a new Apple support document published today. Apple's leather cases for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are not available until November 6, but a MacRumors reader has already shared a photo of a circular imprint on...

iPhone 11 Pro Outlasts iPhone 12 and 12 Pro in Extensive Battery Life Test

Friday October 23, 2020 8:36 am PDT by
Arun Maini today shared a new side-by-side iPhone battery life video test on his YouTube channel Mrwhosetheboss, timing how long the new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models last on a single charge compared to older models, with equal brightness, settings, battery health, and usage. All of the devices are running iOS 14 without a SIM card inserted. In the test, the iPhone 11 Pro outlasted both ...

PSA: Non-iPhone 12 Models Charge Super Slowly With MagSafe Charger

Friday October 23, 2020 4:11 pm PDT by
Alongside the iPhone 12 models, Apple introduced a new $39 MagSafe Charger that's meant to work with the magnets in the iPhone 12 Pro models to charge them up at a maximum of 15W. The MagSafe Charger is technically able to be used with older iPhones, but it's not a good idea because the charging with non-iPhone 12 devices is so slow. We did two tests with the iPhone XS Max, draining the...

MagSafe Charger Teardown Reveals Simple Design With Magnets and Charging Coil Encircling a Small Circuit Board

Friday October 23, 2020 7:50 am PDT by
iFixit has today shared a teardown of Apple's new MagSafe charger for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. An X-ray of the MagSafe charger courtesy of Creative Electron reveals the internal charging coil surrounded by a circular arrangement of magnets within the puck. The only seam that iFixit was able to leverage to open the device was where the white rubber circle meets the metal rim,...

Apple VP Kaiann Drance Interview Addresses Battery Life, MagSafe, and Power Adapter Concerns

Friday October 23, 2020 3:37 am PDT by
Apple's Vice President of iPhone Marketing, Kaiann Drance, has provided a new interview to Rich DeMuro on the Rich on Tech Podcast, to discuss the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. Although much of the interview repeated points from Apple's "Hi, Speed" event, there were a number of interesting tidbits regarding the affect of 5G on battery life, MagSafe concerns, and the lack of a power adapter in...

iFixit Shares Full iPhone 12 and 12 Pro Teardown Revealing Interchangeable Displays and Batteries

Saturday October 24, 2020 1:48 pm PDT by
After live streaming a teardown of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro earlier this week, iFixit today provided a more in-depth teardown that goes through all of the components in the new devices, revealing several similarities between the two. Early testing conducted by iFixit shows that the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro displays are interchangeable and can be swapped without issue, though the max...