PRISM is a code name for a program under which the United States National Security Agency (NSA) collects internet communications from various U.S. internet companies. The program is also known by the SIGAD US-984XN. PRISM collects stored internet communications based on demands made to internet companies such as Google LLC under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to turn over any data that match court-approved search terms. Among other things, the NSA can use these PRISM requests to target communications that were encrypted when they traveled across the internet backbone, to focus on stored data that telecommunication filtering systems discarded earlier, and to get data that is easier to handle.
PRISM began in 2007 in the wake of the passage of the Protect America Act under the Bush Administration. The program is operated under the supervision of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court, or FISC) pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Its existence was leaked six years later by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew and included what he characterized as “dangerous” and “criminal” activities. The disclosures were published by The Guardian and The Washington Post on June 6, 2013. Subsequent documents have demonstrated a financial arrangement between the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division and PRISM partners in the millions of dollars.
Documents indicate that PRISM is “the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports”, and it accounts for 91% of the NSA’s internet traffic acquired under FISA section 702 authority.” The leaked information came after the revelation that the FISA Court had been ordering a subsidiary of telecommunications company Verizon Communications to turn over to the NSA logs tracking all of its customers’ telephone calls.
U.S. government officials have disputed criticisms of PRISM in the Guardian and Washington Post articles and have defended the program, asserting that it cannot be used on domestic targets without a warrant, that it has helped to prevent acts of terrorism, and that it receives independent oversight from the federal government’s executive, judicial and legislative branches. On June 19, 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama, during a visit to Germany, stated that the NSA’s data gathering practices constitute “a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people.”
Wide Area Persistent Surveillance (also Wide Area Motion Imaging) is a form of airborne surveillance system that collects pattern-of-life data by recording motion images of an area larger than a city – in sub-meter resolution. This video allows for anyone within the field of regard to be tracked – both live and retroactively, for forensic analysis. The use of sophisticated tracking algorithms applied to the WAMI dataset also enables mass automated geo-location tracking of every vehicle and pedestrian. WAMI sensors are typically mounted on manned airplanes, drones, blimps and aerostats. WAMI is currently in use on the southern border of the USA and has been deployed in Baltimore, Dayton Ohio as well as in Los Angeles, specifically targeting Compton. Wide Area Persistent Surveillance systems such as ARGUS WAMI are capable of live viewing and recording a 68 square mile area with enough detail to view pedestrians and vehicles and generate chronographs These WAMI cameras, such as Gorgon Stare, Angelfire, Hiper Stare, Hawkeye and ARGUS, create airborne video so detailed that pedestrians can be followed across the city through forensic analysis. This allows investigators to rewind and playback the movements of anyone within this 68 square mile area for hours, days or even months at a time depending on the airframe the WAMI sensors are mounted on. JLENS, a surveillance aerostat scheduled for deployment over the east coast of the USA, is a form of WAMI that uses sophisticated radar imaging along with electro-optical WAMI sensors to enable mass geo-location tracking of ground vehicles.
While a resistance to the domestic deployment of WAMI has emerged in areas where the public has learned of the technologies use, the deployments have been intentionally hidden from the public, as in Compton California, where the mayor learned about the surveillance from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Teame Zazzu and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
PeSEAS and PerMIATE software automate and record the movement observed in the WAMI video. This technology uses software to track and record the movements of pedestrians and vehicles using automatic object recognition software across the entire frame, generating “tracklets” or chronographs of every car and pedestrian movements. 24/7 deployment of this technology has been suggested by the DHS on spy blimps such as the recently killed Blue Devil Airship.