It should be clear to everyone by now that the National Security Agency (NSA) has achieved an unprecedented level of access to the communication patterns and digital trails of American citizens.
The exact details are murky due to the classified nature of the program and the public relations denials of the companies involved (including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook), but the best information we have at this time is that PRISM is an NSA program for streamlining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests with these companies, and receiving data in return. The companies claim that the NSA does not have direct access to their servers, and information is only delivered after a lawfully issued FISA request, and is not delivered in an automated fashion. This might be comforting, if it weren’t for the fact that the FISA courts have largely rubber stamped any request the government makes on national security grounds. With the passage of the FISA Amendments Acts of 2008, it is easier than ever to get a court order for expansive datasets on the shakiest of foundations.