At this point in time, everyone is properly upset about the National Security Agency’s PRISM program and the seemingly endless surveillance it enabled. But guess what? It’s not the only one.
Sprinkled in the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden are some details about FAIRVIEW, a sort of international version of PRISM. Along with a program called BLARNEY and a couple other unnamed “upstream” data collection programs, FAIRVIEW is how the NSA gains access to the very optical cables that carry internet data from the United States to the rest of the world and vice versa. In effect, it’s how the NSA can go directly to the source when trying to gather intelligence on what’s flowing across American borders and through the 885,000km or so of cable twisted around the world.
Thomas Drake is a former NSA senior executive who pulled an Edward Snowden back in 2006 and revealed some of the agency’s secrets. He was consequentially prosecuted under the Espionage Act, but that hasn’t scared him away from talking to the press about the recent NSA revelations. FAIRVIEW, he says, is an umbrella program for upstream data collection that’s not covered by PRISM. “Upstream means you get inside the system before it’s in the Internet — in its pure form,” Drake told the Daily Dot recently. And about the name, “It’s just a name,” he said, “that at the highest level means to own the internet.”
So the NSA wants to own the internet. Super duper. It’s already doing it based on the little bit of information about FAIRVIEW that’s leaked out aside from the brief mention in the PRISM files. For instance, the Daily Dot also talked to Mark Klein, a former AT&T computer network associate, who witnessed the NSA installing splitters directly onto the network cables. These splitters enable the NSA to gobble up literally everything that was being piped through AT&T’s networks, in a way that sounds even more invasive that PRISM connecting directly to the servers of major internet companies. It’s assumed that the NSA parters with other telecommunications companies, both domestic and abroad, to gain access to their networks as well.
Again, very little is known about FAIRVIEW beyond its basic mission. There’s already a scandal brewing in Brazil, however, where a newspaper recently uncovered evidence of the NSA spying on millions of Brazilian citizens without their knowledge through the FAIRVIEW program. There’s a similar level of outrage in Germany where, according to Der Spiegel, the agency carried out mass surveillance on German citizens. It’s important to remember that this happened with the cooperation of the foreign telecommunications companies, though it’s unclear how much coercion the NSA committed to make it happen.
The good news is that FAIRVIEW doesn’t affect the average American in the same way that PRISM does. It’s for foreign intelligence gathering, and doesn’t necessarily involved listening in on your phone conversations and reading your emails. The bad news is that the NSA is already doing that other stuff under programs like PRISM. So good luck finding some privacy, wherever you may live!