A U.S. judge has just admitted the existence of the NSA’s infamous PRISM program by name, apparently the first time any federal judge has done so.
PRISM has been an open secret since June 2013, when documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were first made public. An ominous NSA PowerPoint training slide claimed that PRISM allowed “collection [of user data] directly from the servers” of major American tech companies like Yahoo, Google and Apple, though those tech companies immediately and fiercely protested that no, to their knowledge, they didn’t give the NSA such access. It’s since been generally accepted that the NSA wasn’t physically accessing those companies’ servers with PRISM, but instead creating a streamlined legal process to compel those companies, via orders processed in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to turn over users’ data.
Since the program’s disclosure, most government reports and redacted FISA court orders have referred to PRISM by the legal authority the NSA claims authorizes it, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But that’s confusing, because 702 also authorizes what’s called Upstream collection, which gives the NSA access to raw Internet data—not the same thing as PRISM, which is more specifically targeted.
Federal District Court Judge John Gleeson, who brought up PRISM in a ruling dated February 18 and released Tuesday, is likely the first federal judge to do so, according to observers.