PRISM is an NSA programme that exploits data collected by the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) from nine major US corporations including Facebook, Google and Apple. There is no single PRISM database. Rather, when the data arrives at the NSA, it is sorted and distributed to the following systems:
- MARINA: Internet metadata
- MAINWAY: telephone metadata
- NUCLEON: voice content
- PINWALE: selected email and other content
According to the leaked slides, PRISM is the biggest single contributor to the NSA’s intelligence reporting (GUA01).
- Content and metadata from nine major US companies:
MARINA – NSA repository for Internet metadata.
PINWALE – NSA content repository.
Layers of operation:
- Application layer: Collection of content and metadata through interfaces created by service providers.
- Social layer: Aggregation of content and metadata from multiple applications.
PRISM is considered a downstream programme as it collects information from service providers. It is used in conjunction with upstream programmes that collect communications from fibre-optic cables and other infrastructure.
Although PRISM is an NSA programme, GCHQ is a key partner and has full access to the database (GUA02). In 2013, a UK parliamentary committee deemed GCHQ’s activity legal (BBC01). However, in 2015 the Investigatory Powers Tribunal deemed the activity unlawful (GUA03).
BBC News (BBC)
Mother Jones Magazine (MOJ)