In a not-so bombshell story, considering I predicted this in yesterday’s “Truth Week” column, 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 communication.
The highly classified program, known as PRISM, has become a central program in the anti-terror toolbox at the NSA. According to documents detailing the program’s operation, it is operated with the assistance of the California Silicon Valley tech companies it then targets. The exposure of the program, which has also been reported by the Guardian, is the latest in a string of reports highlighting government overreach.
The scandals have reignited the debate in Washington over the proper balance between privacy and national security. I am an ardent proponent of liberty, and frankly, I can protect myself and really do not need government to do it for me. However, the national debate is going to happen one way or the other, and there can be little doubt that 2014 and 2016 will see the NSA story and the PRISM program at the center.
To better put that debate in perspective, this is how PRISM fairs by the numbers, and is based on what we’ve learned today as reported by Foreign Policy:
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: