Last night we learned about PRISM, a classified National Security Agency program that involves huge, wide-ranging data pulls from major tech companies including Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo. A reader tip sent in to Talking Points Memo this morning alerted us to the possibility that Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley firm, is, according to the tipster, providing the technology that enables the mass-surveillance NSA project known as PRISM. Here's how Palantir describes itself:
It's vague, to be sure; Palantir (which, at time of writing, had not responded to requests for comment) was founded in 2004 by, among others, venture capitalist Peter Thiel and CEO Alex Karp. It's a sort of second-party data intelligence company--it's not a public company, but it was founded with early investment from the CIA and is heavily used by the military and the White House. Karp is an ex-PayPal guy, and leveraged his expertise in security he gained at PayPal (which was constantly fighting off hackers) into his new venture.
It makes sense that Palantir (the name, by the way, is a reference to Lord of the Rings) would be used by the government to collect data from tech companies for PRISM; the responses from the tech companies have all been of a type. "We have never heard of PRISM," said Apple. "We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network," said Yahoo!. "Google does not have a 'back door' for the government to access private user data," said Google. But none of that would be technically untrue if the government was using an external organization as a middleman to extract and analyze data from these companies.
It also explains how a ridiculously wide-ranging and complex project like PRISM only cost the government $20 million--because the government could have paid someone else to do the heavy lifting.
Says Palantir of the company's intelligence work, on its site:
Everyone, meet the company that could well have access to your searches, phone calls, text messages, browsing history, and porn preference. A semi-private company, one that's not accountable to us. Hi Palantir!
Dan, you have a very imperfect understanding of data analysis software as a whole. Data integration platforms, such as Palantir, only provide the software layer between a companies databases and an employee of that company. So even IF an NSA employee was using Palantir software to analyze data in an NSA database, Palantir doesn't necessarily have that same access. Same exact principle for Microsoft, they don't own all of the data that people store on their Windows computer.
What the NSA costs taxpayers.
"...Gordon Adams, a former White House budget official for national security, said he wouldn't be surprised if NSA's resources are "well north" of $20 billion a year..."
It is said by 2033 social security is broke.
Between now and then 400 billion plus will be spent
for this program to treat all USA citizens as
convicted criminals worthy of tracking.
Wouldn't it be nice we all be considered 'innocent until
proven guilty' and use this monies for social security.
@DataDan -" Palantir doesn't necessarily have that same access." Keep reading up on them. They are definitely involved in more than simply providing a software layer between companies. Read the presentation they created on wikileaks and the smear campaign they suggested to discredit them.
@Wonder - great point. And I never understood why the small government crowd didn't raise a stink when Bush & Co. created the Dept of Homeland Security among other things post 9/11. Couldn't we add a few desks or even a division to the FBI etc. at a fraction of the cost of a whole new Department?
"..."The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything," he told the newspaper. "With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards."..."
NSA leaker outs himself, says surveillance programs threaten liberty