The Obama administration has acknowledged using a secret program to spy on millions of customers of the biggest technology companies.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed revelations made by The Guardian on Thursday that the National Security Agency uses Google, Facebook, Apple and other companies to obtain the content of online activity.

Along with the acknowledgement that officials are engaged in a program to monitor the calls of Verizon customers in a program lasting the better part of a decade, it is clear that the Obama administration “has embraced and expanded the surveillance regime began under President Bush,” The Guardian reports.

Laughably to many civil liberties experts, Clapper argued on Thursday night that the phone records collection program operates “within the constraints of law” and “appropriately protect[s] privacy and civil liberties.” He also attacked the disclosure of the online monitoring program as “reprehensible” for risking “important protections for the security of Americans.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

Clapper insisted that the internet surveillance programme, known as Prism and disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post on Thursday, only covered communications with foreigners and did not target US citizens. “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats,” Clapper said.

He acknowledged that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was being used to “facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information”.

A secret 41-slide PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Guardian says that the information can be collected “directly from the servers” through the Prism system. The technology companies denied that direct access to servers was possible in this way, but they admitted complying with legal orders to turn over information. An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.

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