Dateline: 10th June 2013

'Nothing to fear' from PRISM surveillance scandal

The existence of the PRISM system in various newspapers over the last week (primarily The Guardian and The Washington Post) has drawn public attention to a covert surveillance operation on a scale that even conspiracy theorists would have deemed unlikely a fortnight ago.

PRISM is alleged to be a monitoring exercise undertaken by the US's National Security Agency (NSA) in conjunction with some of the world's largest information companies - Google, Apple and Microsoft among them. It is alleged that PRISM enables the NSA to directly access data held by these companies regarding email communications, social media activity and other online behaviour.

The NSA has been quick to downplay the significance and scope of PRISM's capabilities - as have the assembled technology giants, who issued carefully worded denials of involvement.

The Whitehouse issued a statement admitting the existence of PRISM and describing its function thus:

"..an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government's statutorily authorised collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision"

Perhaps the key words there are 'statutorily authorised.' It is suspected that the statute in question is probably the Patriot Act - the US's famously all-encompassing 'anti-terrorism' legislation passed during the height of the Global War on Terror.

As the USA's senior intelligence partner in Europe, it will come as no surprise that the UK is alleged to have involvement in the scheme. Foreign Secretary William Hague was quick to dismiss suggestions of illegality as 'fanciful nonsense' in the media. Nonetheless, documents obtained by the Guardian revealed that GCHQ generated 197 reports from PRISM in 2012 and has been aware of the program since 2010.

In many ways, PRISM's alleged capabilities reflect those of ECHELON.
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