If the National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM program is Big Brother to American (and global) computer users, then a program revealed Wednesday in The Washington Post is the surveillance state’s Big Daddy.
Upstream became public knowledge with the release of a single slide — presumably one leaked to both The Washington Post and the Guardian by Edward Snowden — that appeared on The Post’s website Wednesday atop a story titled “The NSA slide you haven’t seen.”
As it appears, Upstream is a program of undersea fiber-optic cable tapping authorized and carried out by the U.S. government.
From Wednesday’s story:
The slide also shows a crude map of the undersea cable network that carries data from either side of North America and onto the rest of the world. As a story in Sunday’s Post made clear, these undersea cables are essential to worldwide data flows – and to the surveillance capabilities of the U.S. government and its allies.
…Both slides [the Guardian had previously published a separate slide that reveals some, but not all, of the same information] have circles attached to arrows suggesting possible collection points, but they cover areas too broad to discern where NSA accesses fiber-optic cable networks. The slides also list code names under the Upstream program.
If PRISM is intended to siphon off information about computer users’ activities by deploying surveillance at the host servers where all that information is being passed back and forth, Upstream can be thought of as the bottleneck-hijacking of the major 12-lane highways on which that information has to travel. What information it’s collecting is, of course, not known. But there’s no limit to what information it could be collecting.
Programmatically, Upstream is just a name on a slide — just as PRISM is. Leaving aside the empowered few in the loop of illegal government surveillance, there’s no telling whether the public holds enough information to conjure an accurate mental picture of the scope of these programs or a true understanding of how they overlap and intersect. These names are just shorthand to describe the things that outrage us. But at this point, outrage is a de rigueur state of mind for thinking Americans.
See more slides from the Snowden leak here.