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

thadoggfather Avatar
103 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)
Doctor Q Avatar
103 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)
ugahairydawgs Avatar
103 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)
Santabean2000 Avatar
103 months ago
Ironic, considering the US Govt. is one of the least trust worthy organisations. Ever.
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
diddl14 Avatar
103 months ago
Boston shows that this is all worthless ********.
Score: 37 Votes (Like | Disagree)
unobtainium Avatar
103 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

siir apple event april 20

Siri Reveals Apple Event Planned for Tuesday, April 20

Tuesday April 13, 2021 12:04 am PDT by
Siri has apparently prematurely revealed that Apple plans to hold an event on Tuesday, April 20, where the company is expected to reveal brand new iPad Pro models and possibly its long-awaited AirTags trackers. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Upon being asked "When is the next Apple Event," Siri is currently responding with, "The special event is on Tuesday, April...
apple event spring loaded

Apple's 'Spring Loaded' Event Officially Announced for Tuesday, April 20

Tuesday April 13, 2021 9:04 am PDT by
Following an overnight leak by Siri, Apple today officially announced that it will be holding a special "Spring Loaded" event on Tuesday, April 20 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time at the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California. As with all of Apple's 2020 events, the April 2021 event will be a digital-only gathering with no members of the media invited to attend in...
pixel watch prosser leak

Google Pixel Watch Allegedly Leaks with Circular Design, Rumored to Launch in October

Monday April 12, 2021 2:49 am PDT by
Renders of Google's first smartwatch, codenamed "Rohan," have been shared by Jon Prosser, showing that Google plans to adopt a circular design for its flagship wearable watch. Prosser shared the renders in an episode of his YouTube show "Front Page Tech," in which he claims they were made based on marketing material he had seen from a source within Google. The renders show that the Pixel...
Google maps feaure green

Google Maps App for iOS Finally Updated After Four Months

Monday April 12, 2021 10:03 am PDT by
Following the completed rollout of App Privacy labels for its App Store apps, Google today updated the Google Maps app for the first time in four months. Apple in December began requiring all new app submissions and app updates to include App Privacy labels, detailing the data that is collected by the app so consumers know what they're sharing. Google didn't begin implementing App Privacy ...
AppleTV and HomePod Feature

Bloomberg: Apple Working on New Apple TV With Integrated HomePod Speaker and FaceTime Camera

Monday April 12, 2021 3:32 am PDT by
Apple is working on a combined Apple TV with HomePod speaker that has a camera for video calls through a connected television set, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. From the report: The company is working on a product that would combine an Apple TV set-top box with a HomePod speaker and include a camera for video conferencing through a connected TV and other smart-home functions,...
samsung experience 1

Samsung's 'iTest' Lets You Try a Galaxy Device on Your iPhone

Thursday April 8, 2021 12:42 pm PDT by
Samsung has launched "iTest," an interactive website experience that's designed to allow iPhone users to test out Android on a Galaxy device, or "sample the other side," as Samsung puts it. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The iTest website is being advertised in New Zealand, according to a MacRumors reader who came across the feature. Visiting the iTest website on...
epic iap feature 3

Tim Cook Says App Store Would Become a 'Flea Market' if Third-Party Payment Systems Were Allowed

Monday April 12, 2021 9:41 am PDT by
In a recent interview with the Toronto Star, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about a wide variety of topics, ranging from App Tracking Transparency to Apple's ongoing legal battle over App Store policies with Fortnite creator Epic Games. Notably, Cook said that Epic Games' desire for Apple to let developers offer their own payment systems in apps "would make the App Store a flea market":At the...
tim cook toronto star

Tim Cook Says Apple is 'Not Against Digital Advertising' Ahead of iOS 14.5 Launch With App Tracking Transparency

Monday April 12, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
Starting with iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5, Apple will be requiring apps to receive a user's permission to track their activity for targeted advertising purposes, as part of a privacy measure known as App Tracking Transparency. Ahead of App Tracking Transparency being enforced, Apple CEO Tim Cook has participated in a privacy-focused interview with the Toronto Star, telling the...
a13 bionic mockup

Apple Made Sudden Security Changes to its Chips in Fall 2020

Monday April 12, 2021 8:15 am PDT by
Apple made unusual mid-production hardware changes to the A12, A13, and S5 processors in its devices in the fall of 2020 to update the Secure Storage Component, according to Apple Support documents. According to an Apple Support page, spotted by Twitter user Andrew Pantyukhin, Apple changed the Secure Enclave in a number of products in the fall of 2020:Note: A12, A13, S4, and S5 products...
HomePod G4 Feature

Bloomberg: Future HomePod May Feature iPad Connected Via Robotic Arm to Track Users Around The Room During FaceTime Calls

Monday April 12, 2021 3:50 am PDT by
In a report outlining a possible Apple TV with a combined HomePod and camera, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that Apple is exploring a future high-end HomePod speaker that could include an iPad connected via a robotic arm that tracks and follows users around a room. From the report: The Cupertino, California-based technology giant, is also mulling the launch of a high-end speaker with a touch ...