What Does PRISM Do? How Does It Work?


What, precisely, does the PRISM program do? The Guardian described it as providing “direct access” to corporate servers owned by the likes of Google and Microsoft, and I was puzzled about exactly what that meant. From a technical perspective, I didn’t understand what this entailed. Some kind of remote superuser access? Taps on incoming and outgoing communications links? Software agents installed on company servers? Or what? It’s especially peculiar because most of the companies involved have now issued seemingly unequivocal denials that they allow NSA any kind of access at all without a firm legal basis.

Well, the Washington Post updated its story this morning and added this paragraph:

It is possible that the conflict between the PRISM slides and the company spokesmen is the result of imprecision on the part of the NSA author. In another classified report obtained by The Post, the arrangement is described as allowing “collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations,” rather than directly to company servers.

Does this help? It doesn’t help me much, but maybe it means something to someone with the right background. Anyone care to weigh in?

Also: Britain apparently has access to the PRISM program too, which allows their spy agency “to circumvent the formal legal process required in Britain to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside of the country.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.