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Intelligence Chief Defends Internet Spying Program

The nation’s top intelligence official says a previously undisclosed program for tapping into Internet usage is authorized by Congress, falls under strict supervision of a secret court and cannot intentionally target a U.S. citizen. And he says it was reckless to reveal it and another intelligence-gathering program.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has taken the rare step of declassifying some details of an intelligence program to respond to media reports about the government’s counterterrorism techniques.

His statement and declassification on Saturday addresses the Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, that allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of major U.S. Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL. Like the phone-records program, PRISM was approved by a judge in a secret court order. Unlike that program, however, PRISM allows the government to seize actual conversations: emails, video chats, instant messages and more.

Clapper says the program, authorized in the USA Patriot Act, has been in place since 2008 and “has proven vital to keeping the nation and our allies safe.”

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