David Michaelis: On PRISM, Microsoft, FISA Secret Courts and the Star Chamber

Written by David Michaelis

David Michaelis — On NSA PRISM Secret Courts, and what the deal is with the FISA, Microsoft disclosures and the Star Chamber …

aNewDomain.netThe Guardian reveals that “material collected through (the NSA surveillance digital program) PRISM is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a ‘team sport.’ ”

click to view one of the first Spy vs. Spy cartoons

Spy vs. Spy credit: via NPR.org 

The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration and its agencies.

All the major tech firms now are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers’ privacy concerns. And almost all of these are publicly-traded companies with responsibilities to reveal information, anyway.

It is all strange. You see  tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents — and insistence that the process is driven by legal compulsion.

In a statement, Microsoft said:

When we upgrade or update products we aren’t absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands … we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.

Full updated Microsoft statement here:

Microsoft’s Statement.

That could mean anything from Microsoft is fighting every single court order to the other side of the spectrum — that it gladly hands over all customer data as soon as someone comes asking, especially given that these so-called legal processes are handled by a secret court, the United States Foreign Surveillance (FISA) court.

Yahoo Update-wins court case;UPDATE-

Yahoo has won a court fight that could help the public learn more about the government’s efforts to obtain data from Internet users.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews government requests to spy on individuals, ruled Monday that information should be made public about a 2008 case that ordered Yahoo Inc. to turn over customer data.

The order requires the government to review which portions of the opinion, briefs and arguments can be declassified and report back to the court by July 29.

The government sought the information from Yahoo under the National Security Agency’s PRISM data-gathering program.


Microsoft for sure is hiding behind legalese, which is one way to be non-transparent. It’s the modern Star Chamber, a 16th and 17th century British court set up to create secret trials that eventually became a political tool. The Habeas Corpus Act of British Parliament in 1640-41 abolished the court.

Secret courts should be banned by any democratic constitution.

What else is hiding behind the modern secret court that is enabling PRISM and other progrsms, like the one the U.S. Postal Service has set up to scan mail?

It is time politicians said no.


The confirmation by The Guardian of this collaboration revealed the unlocking of the encryption of Outlook.com and the enabling  of PRISM to collect Skype video calls. Microsoft did everything to make it easier for the FBI and NSA to collect metadata. The Guardian explains that:

Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook portal”

If this sounds as if you’re stuck in some sort of digital hell, it’s not as bad as it could be. First, you don’t need to use Gmail or Outlook.com. That will limit the information Google and Microsoft has about you . You also don’t have to use Google for search, and that will limit it even more. None of this affects what the NSA may find out about you, but at least the government isn’t selling your info for ad revenue. You also are now able to employ the secure (we’ll see) anonymous browser plug in from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Find out how to install that here.

The transparency of the corporate Silicon Valley sector is nearing zero. The secret courts enable a state within a state to operate, and in so doing it creates a Big Brother mechanism.

The visualization of this process is very well described by the MIT IMMERSION team. Check out this Beneath the Surface video — it will explain to you how your metadata is viewed by your government. The immersion map — find it here — gives you a peoples’ network visualization of your email network. The team at MIT explains it all in the video here.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m David Michaelis.

Based in Australia, David Michaelis is a world-renowned international journalist and founder of Link Tv. At aNewDomain.net, he covers the global beat, focusing on politics and other international topics of note for our readers in a variety of forums. Email him at DavidMc@aNewDomain.net.