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What is PalTalk and why does the NSA want its data?

National Security Agency wants to know about PalTalk, a video chat website popular during the Arab Spring.

Paltalk logo prism nsaEnlarge
PalTalk.com has found itself amid Silicon Valley's elite Facebook, YouTube and Apple and the growing PRISM spy scandal. PalTalk is the "web's largest video chat service" with 4 million active users, the company says. (Screengrab)

For a modest hi-tech operation, PalTalk finds itself surrounded by some very large players amid the growing PRISM spying story.

Facebook, Skype, Google, YouTube and Apple read like a veritable Silicon Valley who’s who, and nestled into the mix of the Verizon "metadata" scandal is PalTalk.

So why is the National Security Agency interested in this video chat service?

Well, according to the company press kit, it is “the web’s largest video chat community” with more than 4 million active members.

Online with the free download, you can join chat rooms to discuss hundreds of topics, from “Deepak Chopra Soul of Leadership” to “white wives secretly curious about black men.”

Before you assume there’s an FBI agent out there with an interesting marriage, know that PalTalk was also instrumental in the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa.

It’s also popular among Muslims across the world looking for secure ways to discuss taboo subjects: religion, sex, music and politics.

More from GlobalPost: Battlefield internet, how scared should we be?

Those pushing Iran’s Green Revolution used it for meetings, the Wall Street Journal said in 2010.

Shortly after it launched in 1998, young Iranians dared bare all for their PalTalk friends, The New York Times reported.

However, it was also used by militants praising the 9/11 attacks in the US and 7/7 bombings in London.

The Telegraph said terrorists used PalTalk to plot attacks on the London Stock Exchange and US Embassy.

PC World said Al Qaeda is also a PalTalk member, using the service for recruitment.

And why PalTalk? Thousands of users flocked there when Yahoo shuttered its video chat service in 2010.

Those revelations don’t seem to worry company executives as much as the thought the NSA is mining personal data through PalTalk.

“We have not heard of PRISM,” an official statement said. “PalTalk exercises extreme care to protect and secure users’ data, only responding to court orders as required to by law. PalTalk does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers.”

More from GlobalPost: The Surveillance State, a brave not-so-new world

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/130607/what-paltalk-and-why-does-the-nsa-want-its-data