Whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelation early this month that U.S. intelligence agencies have been gathering user data directly from nine of the largest Internet companies in the U.S.—including Google and Facebook—shocked many Americans.
But, considering the history of the NSA, maybe it shouldn't have. Decades before the agency was collecting massive amounts of phone and Internet records, it was collecting telegraph records in an operation that raises similar legal issues and worries about lack of oversight.
In August of 1945, U.S. Army representatives met in secret with the country’s three major telegraph companies, ITT World International, RCA Global, and Western Union. They explained that the Army Signal Security Agency wanted copies of all telegrams sent to and from the United States. World War II was coming to a close and the top secret, multinational Manhattan project had proven the power of foreign intelligence. Executives from the three companies agreed to comply, provided they were assured by then-Attorney General Tom Clark that it was not illegal for them to do so. There is no record any such assurance was officially given, but the operation went ahead anyway.
For the rest of the story: http://www.dailydot.com/politics/nsa-prism-shamrock-history-spying-telegraphs/