Have you ever heard of a US government program called PRISM? If not, don't worry, you're probably in the majority, but that set of circumstances is likely to change in the very near future.
Project PRISM, it appears, is an initiative that allows US authorities to mine data such as emails, search-engine history, chats and files.
The first instances of reporting this appeared in The Guardian this week, when that paper revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers on a daily basis.
According to a leaked document, the NSA has gained direct access to the systems of nine leading internet companies, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. The Guardian says its verified the authenticity of this top-secret document, which has been released in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.
It says it was "apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program" and "claims 'collection directly from the servers' of major US service providers."
The list of companies included in the PRISM project include Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype and YouTube. So far, those approached for comment have denied any knowledge that they were involved with the program.