The National Security Agency and FBI are mining data from the servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies under a classified program, The Washington Post reports.
The classified program allows the government agencies to extract audio, video, photographs, emails and documents to track individuals, according to the Post report.
The companies that participate in the program are a who’s who of the leading Internet giants: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, Youtube, Apple and PalTalk. The latter is a smaller company that hosted significant traffic during the Arab spring, according to the Post.
The Post obtained an internal presentation on the Silicon Valley operation that was intended for senior NSA analysts. It said that the “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM” as a source of raw material, and it now accounts for one in seven intelligence reports.
The presentation said that Dropbox, a cloud storage company, could be “coming soon."
The disclosure of the federal government’s Internet data collection program comes on the heels of a report from The Guardian that the NSA was collecting the phone records from Verizon in a sweeping phone surveillance program.
Senators with knowledge of the program said that it had been ongoing since 2007, just like the PRISM program. Both are run under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court.
“The Guardian and Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” a senior administration official said in a statement late Thursday. “This law does not allow the targeting of any U.S. citizen or of any person located within the United States.”
“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement that the unauthorized disclosure of a top secret court document “threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation.”
“The highest priority of the Intelligence Community is to work within the constraints of law to collect, analyze and understand information related to potential threats to our national security,” Clapper said. “The article omits key information regarding how a classified intelligence collection program is used to prevent terrorist attacks and the numerous safeguards that protect privacy and civil liberties.”
Tech firms were quick to deny that they helped the NSA.
"We have never heard of PRISM," Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said in a statement. "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."
Google, Facebook and Yahoo late Thursday also denied that they're helping the NSA mine data.
--Justin Sink contributed.
--This report was updated at 10:46 p.m.