CNN — U.S. intelligence agencies operated a broad data-mining program that extracted e-mail, photos and other private communications from some of the biggest Internet companies, American and British newspapers reported Thursday.
The agencies got access to the central servers of nine major firms, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook, the Guardian and The Washington Post reported. The Post said it had been provided a detailed briefing presentation document on the program, called PRISM.
The program has been running since 2007 and has undergone "exponential growth" since then, the Post reported. It is now the leading source of raw material for the National Security Agency, the secretive U.S. intelligence operation that monitors electronic communications.
CNN is attempting to confirm the reports, which came out a day after the Guardian revealed that the government may be collecting the phone records of millions of Americans.
The NSA told CNN it had no comment.
The Guardian published a four-page, top-secret government order requiring "originating and terminating" phone numbers plus the location, time and duration of calls from the telecommunications giant Verizon, allowing the FBI and NSA to obtain the records from April 25 to July 19.
According to a briefing slide published by the Guardian, PRISM began with data from Microsoft in 2007. The program began collecting data from Yahoo in 2008 and from Google, Facebook and the message system PalTalk in 2009. YouTube became a source in 2010, Skype and AOL in 2011 and Apple in late 2012, the slide recounts.
The Post said government officials would not comment on the article.
"You've got to watch the power of government," former Rep. Ron Paul told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360." "Power in government is almost always abused. And this is abuse. It's very, very dangerous."
The Texas Republican said the government was violating the constitutional rights of Americans to probable cause required before authorities can conduct searches.
A Google spokesman told CNN: "Google cares deeply about the security of our users' data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a 'back door' for the government to access private user data."
A statement from Microsoft said the company provides user data only when legally required and only for specific accounts.
"If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it," Microsoft said.
Meanwhile, Apple spokesman Steve Dowling told CNN his company has never heard of PRISM.
"We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order," Dowling said.
And Facebook spokeswoman Jodi Seth told CNN the social media giant won't give government agencies "direct access" to its servers.
"When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law," Seth said.
--CNN's Augie Martin and Stefan Simons contributed to this report.
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