The Guardian newspaper has reported that America’s National Security Agency collects the numbers and times of telephone calls made by customers of mobile network Verizon within the US and between the US and other countries.
This activity apparently began after a previously secret court order was granted on 25th April and will run until 19th July 2013. According to the press report, Verizon is not permitted to disclose the existence of the court order. It’s unclear whether this is a one-off order or part of an ongoing series.
A separate Guardian report claims that an NSA operation known as Prism has gathered information from internet companies including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype and Yahoo - and has then passed this information to the UK’s GCHQ security agency. A number of the companies have issued public statements insisting they haven’t provided direct access to the NSA and didn’t know about Prism until the media reports.
UPDATE: 9th June 2013
James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, has published a statement about the PRISM operation and has also declassified some of the information.
He refers to “reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe” and insists “the surveillance activities published in The Guardian and The Washington Post are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed”.
PRISM is referred to as “an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision”. This means it’s not used for US citizens and requires court approval, as noted in section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
[More information: Washington Post; Google blog; Mark Zuckerberg statement; Yahoo blog, PRISM facts (pdf)]