LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Since 2007, America's National Security Agency has been mining data from the servers of major American Internet companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google. That's according to new reports from the Guardian and the Washington Post. This comes hard on the heels of another Guardian report revealing the intelligence agency is collecting Verizon phone records of millions of Americans
The man who co-wrote those stories in The Guardian is activist and blogger Glenn Greenwald. We reached him this morning in Hong Kong to ask more about a data gathering program called PRISM.
GLENN GREENWALD: What it enables the NSA to do is instead of going to the various companies and requesting specific information that they think, under the law, they're entitled to have, they instead have either been given or seized access directly to the servers of these company so that they're able to access any of the data that resides there at any time; meaning any of the messages and emails that are stored on Facebook, any of the real-time surveillance of conversations on Skype, essentially to access the world's communications.
MONTAGNE: What exactly is it doing with this information?
GREENWALD: The National Security Agency is currently devoted to the objective of creating a worldwide surveillance net that allows it to monitor what all human beings are doing and how they're behaving and interacting with one another. And this is being done in complete secrecy with very little oversight. And I think that really is the issue, is that we need to know what this massive part of our government is doing.
MONTAGNE: Now, Apple is one company that has denied knowledge of this program, PRISM. Google has said very straightforwardly that it has no back door that would allow the intelligence services direct access to its servers. Is that possible?
GREENWALD: It's fascinating because the NSA, when we went to them, they confirmed the authenticity of the document and the program. Whether they have created the back door without the knowledge of the companies - which means the companies are telling the truth when they say they don't know, or the companies are lying and they do know and just the ones who admit it to their customers - is something that will have to be sorted out.
MONTAGNE: And in response to this latest report, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, in a statement has said that there are numerous inaccuracies in these reports about PRISM. He's also said that the reports are putting at risk, quote, "important protections for the security of Americans."
Does that possibility concern you?
GREENWALD: No. There is absolutely no national security harm that comes from knowing that the government is gathering all of our phone records or directly tapping into the servers of all these companies. The only thing that is harmed is the credibility and reputation of the people in power, and that's the reason that they're angry.
MONTAGNE: But this program, as you report, these programs have been in effect for years - going back to the Bush administration. Do you have an example of how this information has actually been used?
GREENWALD: There have been reported examples of the NSA and analysts at the NSA using the mechanisms that they have access to. ABC News reported several years ago, through whistleblowers, that they have used it to eavesdrop on people against whom they have personal grudges. There's isolated examples of the Patriot Act being abused.
The problem is that the entire system operates behind a wall of extreme secrecy. We don't have any mechanisms to check what it is that they're doing. And so what we need is an investigation in order to answer exactly the question that you just asked, which is how are these powers being used.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
GREENWALD: Thank you for having me.
MONTAGNE: Glenn Greenwald broke his story in The Guardian newspaper. We'll hear more on this from NPR's Dina Temple-Reston later in the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.