PRISM, the covert program through which NSA has been carrying out its spying, has been active since 2007 and the primary goal of the operation was to monitor US servers of foreign communications. According to reports NSA could listen in on Skype calls if they were being placed using a conventional phone. The report also claimed that the NSA monitors Google voice and video chats, file transfers, photo uploads, Gmail and has the capability to carry out live surveillance of all search terms.

The report also claims that cloud services such as iCloud, Google Drive and even Dropbox are being monitored while Facebook social activities are being also tracked. The Guardian report claims that GCHQ – UK’s intelligence agency has had access to PRISM surveillance data since 2010.

What is PRISM?
Going by the original leaked slides, PRISM is a programme through which US government has access to vast amounts of data of internet users of some of the world’s biggest and most powerful tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.

According to the slides, the programme enables NSA operatives to access personal information of billions of people by giving them unrestricted access to servers of these companies. Tech companies started denying their involvement following which reports showcased PRISM as a simple tool for analysing vast amounts of data that flows in and out of these servers.

PRISM, however as the slides claim, is a bespoke tool that provides for access to data directly from servers and there are other tools that allow NSA personnel to capture data in transit.

Servers of which companies were involved?
According to the slides as of now Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, YouTube, Skype, and Apple – a total of nine technology companies are involved.

Beyond these 9, Dropbox and Twitter were also approached by the US Government. Dropbox was to be inducted whereas Twitter declined to get involved.

What can PRISM collect?
In-fact anything that is posted online using any of the services of the top tech companies is available to PRISM. Information in emails, messages, voice over IP calls and even Google’s search history is available for PRISM to spy on.

According to Snowden, if NSA had access to email address of a person they would initiate a wiretap on his phone and start monitoring his / her online activity without any warrant.

Who blew the whistle?
Edward Snowden, 29-year old former CIA employee and IT contractor, leaked a 41 page PowerPoint slide show about PRISM. He fled US and went to Hong Kong on May 20 and was there up until last night. His current location or whereabouts are not known.

Snowden voluntary revealed that he was the source of the leak and that he was aware of the consequences and would probably be “made to suffer” for his actions. However, he would be “satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant”, Snowden said.