In May, Edward Snowden — once a contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency — leaked information related to top-secret mass surveillance programs conducted by the United States and the United Kingdom to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian. The report states that through a program called PRISM, the NSA has been able to obtain direct access to the systems of major U.S. Internet and technology companies such as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and others.
The clandestine ability of the government to monitor digital communications and collect information was born out of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, “An Act to authorize electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence information.” PRISM itself is more directly a product of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Given the benefit of the doubt, the measures seem to be the product of a desire to enhance the government’s ability to identify and thwart threats to national security. But as these things go, what may have started with good intentions was perverted over time.
Through the PRISM program, the government’s ability to monitor and collect information was expanded beyond what most Americans deem reasonable. The content the NSA was able to collect — or at least observe — includes search history, emails, online conversations, and file transfers.