Michael Winter, USA TODAY
The National Security Agency and the FBI are siphoning personal data from the main computer servers of nine major U.S. Internet firms, The Washington Post and the London-based Guardian are reporting.
The Post writes that the agencies are "extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person's movements and contacts over time."
The court-approved, top secret program, code-named PRISM, was established in 2007 and had not been disclosed publicly before.
The technology companies involved are Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, PalTalk and AOL. The cloud-storage service Dropbox was described as "coming soon," along with other, unidentified firms.
PalTalk has hosted "significant traffic" during the so-called Arab Spring uprisings and the Syrian civil war, the Post notes.
The operation was approved by special federal judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Some members of Congress knew of the operation but could not comment.
The program was outlined in a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation intended for senior intelligence analysts. It was classified as top secret "with no distribution to foreign allies," the Guardian writes.
Obama administration officials declined to comment, as did the FBI.
The Post says the technology companies are knowingly participating in the secret program, but the Guardian reports that all denied knowledge of the spying, even though the presentation "claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies."
The Guardian says Microsoft was the first to participate, starting in December 2007. Yahoo joined In 2008, followed by Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and then Apple last year.
Google issued a statement that said the company "cares deeply about the security of our users' data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data."
The revelation comes a day after the Guardian reported that the FISA court had ordered Verizon to turn over call information to the NSA.