In short: a leaked intelligence presentation, verified by multiple major news sources, claimed to reveal the existence of an NSA program called PRISM. This program allegedly lets the NSA tap in to the servers of major Internet organizations, possibly at will.
The names of those organizations include Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube and Skype. It’s a who’s who of popular, often beloved tech services. Who among us does not have one of these company’s web pages open on their browser right now, or carry one of their devices in your pocket?
Nearly all of those companies quickly denied knowledge of PRISM Thursday. But it was interesting that they all did so in pretty much the same way — denying that there is any kind of NSA “direct access” to their company’s servers (leaving the door open to some form of warrantless indirect access), then pointing out that they comply with the law.
If PRISM exists, it is almost certainly perfectly legal under the Patriot Act and similar legislation. Take this little piece of light reading, the amended foreign intelligence surveillance Act of 2008 [PDF]. Skip forward to section 702. It has a very interesting section about compensating tech companies for their troubles. The annual budget of the PRISM program is $20 million; we don’t know where that is supposed to be going.