NSA spying programs give access to US citizens’ private data to low-level analysts with little court approval or supervision, says Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story on Washington’s PRISM surveillance system.
“[PRISM] is an incredibly powerful and invasive tool,” Greenwald told ABC’s ‘This Week.’ The NSA programs are “exactly the type that Mr. Snowden described. NSA officials are going to be testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, and I defy them to deny that these programs work exactly as I’ve said.”
The NSA keeps trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases which they can access anytime with simple screen programs, he said.
“And what these programs are, are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things.”
“It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future.”
While the program conducts wiretapping with little court approval or supervision, there are “legal constraints” on surveillance that require approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, in which court judges can secretly review the government’s plans to track suspected terrorists in advance.
“You can’t target [Americans] without going to the FISA court,” Greenwald stressed. “But these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents.”
“And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst,” he added.
Greenwald will testify before a Congressional committee on Wednesday, along with NSA officials who have previously downplayed Snowden’s claims about the agency’s easy-access data.
PRISM is a mass electronic surveillance data mining program operated by the NSA since 2007. The program was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden earlier this summer. Snowden leaked information about the program to the media, warning of a far greater extent of mass data collection than the public knew existed. The disclosures were published by The Guardian and The Washington Post on June 6.
Snowden later leaked further information to Greenwald which pertained to mass security operations carried out across the world. He spoke of British spy agency GCHQ, which uses the Tempora surveillance program. The whistleblower also shared information regarding Germany’s cooperation with US intelligence, which reportedly combs through half a billion German phone calls, emails, and text messages on a daily basis.