updated 11:07 am EDT, Mon July 1, 2013
Slides showing data collection workflow accompanied by embassy spying claims
The NSA has the ability to receive updates for a person's online activities as part of real-time surveillance through PRISM, according to newly-released information. Four new slides from a presentation state that the NSA could get "live notifications when a target logs on or sends an e-mail" depending on the source, and could also monitor "text, or voice chat as it happens."
The slides published by the Washington Post mention the process that the NSA and FBI ago through in order to perform such data collection activities, including the selection of targets, the scanning of live and recorded data, and the retaining of data, as well as the potential size of the operation.
The eventual targets of surveillance are in theory meant to be people that are not American and are located outside the US, though the effectiveness of this too is put into doubt. It is claimed that supervisors must endorse an analyst with a "reasonable belief," defined as a 51-percent confidence, that the "specified target is a foreign national who is overseas at the time of collection."
One image shows a web interface to PRISM that seems to list 117,675 records in the software's database on April 5th, though the typical contents of each record was not revealed, nor if a record was linked to just one person, nor what percentage were active at the time. Collecting data based on such a low level of certainty and in such high quantities suggests that it is extremely likely that surveillance of US citizens within US borders took place.
After being processed by a number of different tools, the data could be dealt with in a number of ways, depending on the participants. Data for foreign targets with US communications are classed as "incidental" and is typically stored for five years, with identified US citizens being disclosed to other agencies for either the easier understanding of an intelligence report, or if it believes that there is evidence of a crime.
Another report over the weekend by UK newspaper the Guardian provides more details from whistleblower Edward Snowden, claiming that intelligence services in the US are spying on 38 embassies and missions. Interception and data collection was performed at the embassies for "sensitive Middle Eastern countries," as well as those of France, Italy, Greece, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India, and Turkey, as of September 2010. The report also details one of the interception methods as planting a bug on an encrypted fax machine used to send diplomatic cables between government ministers, which usually contained sensitive information.