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NSA used PRISM to collect more than 200 million internet communications a year as of 2011

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Prism Assets
Prism Assets

According to a declassified order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as of 2011, the US National Security Agency was "acquiring" more than 250 million "internet communications" each year under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) — the statute that allows the NSA to collect the content of internet communications. The order states that the "vast majority" of these communications were obtained from internet service providers under PRISM, and that only nine percent of of the total internet communications acquired by the NSA were part of its "upstream" collection practices, which pull data directly from telecommunications cables.

PRISM, a tool used by the NSA to collect private electronic data of users from services like Gmail, Facebook, Outlook, and others, gained international significance this year after classified presentation slides detailing aspects of the program were leaked by a former NSA contractor. The US government has insisted that the NSA is only permitted to collect intelligence on non-US citizens overseas, but critics of the program say that the government's broad, classified collection efforts capture too much "incidental" data belonging to innocent Americans with no connection to terrorism.

The 2011 FISA court order is set to be declassified today following a FOIA request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was originally disseminated by The Washington Post.

While previous leaks about the PRISM program hinted at the scope of its data collection, the court order declassified today provides a better look at the number of discrete communications that are captured. In June, leaked slides provided to The Washington Post by Edward Snowden revealed that PRISM contained more than 100,000 "active surveillance targets" with over 100,000 "records" — but PRISM's full scope has largely been a mystery.