Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked top secret agency documents to the media, said during an on-camera interview with The Guardian last month that the NSA’s PRISM program gives the government “direct access” to major technology companies’ systems.
“We’ve got PRISM, which is a demonstration of how the U.S. government co-opts U.S. corporate power to its own ends,” Snowden said during a new portion of the interview, conducted on June 6, which The Guardian released on Monday. “Companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft — they all get together with the NSA, and provide the NSA direct access to the back ends of all of the systems you use to communicate, to store data, to put things in the cloud, and even just to send birthday wishes, and keep a record of your life. And they give [the] NSA direct access that they don’t need to oversee, so they can’t be held liable for it.”
Soon after NSA documents related to PRISM and descriptions of the program appeared in The Guardian and The Washington Post, Apple, Facebook, and Google explicitly denied giving the government “direct access” to company servers. In a blog post in June, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald said that the newspaper’s original article about PRISM “did not claim that the NSA document alleging direct collection from the servers was true; we reported – accurately – that the NSA document claims that the program allows direct collection from the companies’ servers.”
Snowden did not mention “direct access” in the original portion of the video interview released last month, but when asked about what the phrase meant during a live chat on The Guardian’s website last month, he wrote that “[m]ore detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same.”