This was the week that America's intelligence secrets spilled out: Classified court orders. Top secret Power Point slides. Something called PRISM.

It's pretty important stuff, once you've made sense of it.

Here's what you need to know.

>> In this Wednesday, April 24, 2013 file photo transportation engineer associate Abeer Kliefe works at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation's Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control Center in downtown Los Angeles. In a 2011 poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 54 percent of those surveyed felt protecting citizens' rights and freedoms should be a higher priority for the government than keeping people safe from terrorists. At the same time, 64 percent said it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice some rights and freedoms to fight terrorism.

Question
Associated Press

The past few days have been packed with coverage about domestic surveillance. I have no idea what I'm hearing.

>> Patrons shop at the Apple store on 14th street Thursday, June 6, 2013, in New York. A leaked document has laid bare the scope of the government's surveillance of Americans' phone records — hundreds of millions of calls — in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks.

Answer
Associated Press

That's not a question. So let's start from the beginning, which in the national security world these days means going back to 9/11.

Shortly after the attacks, Congress hastily approved the USA Patriot Act. That gave the government wide new powers to collect information on Americans. In the first few years, news coverage focused on how the FBI would use these new powers to seize phone, bank and library records.

Separate from the Patriot Act, though, President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct a highly classified wiretapping program. Normally, the government needs a warrant to spy on Americans, but Bush allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens, read their emails and collect their phone records — all without warrants.

In 2005, The New York Times revealed the existence of that program. Amid the furor, the rules changed. The wiretapping operation and the collection of phone records could continue, but a judge had to sign off on them.

The scope of those programs wasn't fully known. But the government assured people that the spying was narrow and kept them safe. Congress voted to continue the authority.

Then this week, The Guardian newspaper published a classified court document from April that authorized the government to seize all of Verizon's phone records on a daily basis — an estimated 3 billion phone calls a day. The government didn't eavesdrop on anyone (under this court order, at least), but it received all outgoing and incoming numbers for every call, plus the unique electronic fingerprints that identify cellphones.

A program that the government said was narrow was suddenly revealed as vast. Under Bush and then President Barack Obama, the National Security Agency had built a colossal database of American phone calls.

>> Shoppers enter the Apple store location on fifth avenue Thursday, June 6, 2013, in New York. A leaked document has laid bare the scope of the government's surveillance of Americans' phone records — hundreds of millions of calls — in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks.

Question
Associated Press

That's a lot to digest. Is that it?

>> A military no trespassing sign is seen in front of Utah's NSA Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, Friday, June 7, 2013. President Barack Obama vigorously defended sweeping secret surveillance into America's phone records and foreigners' Internet use, declaring "we have to make choices as a society." It was revealed late Wednesday that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone customers.

Answer
Associated Press

Nope. A day after the court document surfaced, the Guardian and The Washington Post published stories and secret Power Point slides revealing another classified spying program. Unlike the effort to collect phone records, this one hadn't even been hinted about publicly.

This program, code-named PRISM, allowed the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of major U.S. Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL.

Like the phone-records program, PRISM was approved by a judge in a secret court order. Unlike that program, however, PRISM allowed the government to seize actual conversations: emails, video chats, instant messages and more.

>> A woman talks on the phone in front of the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, June 6, 2013, where the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resides. An order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25, good until July 19, for the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly collect the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Question
Associated Press

How does that work?

>> The Facebook "like" symbol is illuminated on a sign outside the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Friday, June 7, 2013. A leaked document has laid bare the monumental scope of the government's surveillance of Americans' phone records — hundreds of millions of calls — in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks. The companies include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

Answer
Associated Press

You're going to hear a lot about PRISM and, when you do it's important to remember two things:

First, it's no less than astonishing that reporters obtained such highly classified, detailed documents about an ongoing intelligence-gathering program.

Second, for all the incredible details, we still know relatively little about the program. The slides appear to be from an internal NSA presentation explaining the value of PRISM to analysts. So they don't get very technical and they leave a lot unanswered.

Imagine someone trying to understand the way a company works using only the slides from the most recent staff meeting. That's what this is.

From the documents, it's clear that the NSA receives data directly from the Internet companies. The information varies by company but includes emails, your social networking activity, the files you receive, even family photos.

>> This undated photo made available by Google shows backup tapes stored at a data center in Berkeley County, S.C. It can, at first glance, seem a leap to draw a line between the way Americans share their private lives on Facebook or our search habits with Google and concerns about government surveillance. But surrendering privacy, whether to business or government, fundamentally shifts the balance of power from the watched to the watchers, experts say.

Question
Associated Press

What do they do with that stuff?

>> A woman talks on the phone outside the U.S. Courthouse where the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resides in Washington, Thursday, June 6, 2013. The Court issued an order on April 25, 2013 ordering Verizon to provide the NSA an "ongoing, daily basis" stream of information all of it's landlines and mobile telephone calls.

Answer
Associated Press

It's not clear from the documents but, as with phone records, the NSA appears to be building a database of much of the Internet traffic.

The companies participating in PRISM produce enormous amounts of data every day, so storing it would require computing power the likes of which the public has never seen. People who study technology and security believe that's why the NSA has been building a million-square-foot data center near Salt Lake City.

That center will reportedly cost about $2 billion to construct — and $40 million a year to power such a wide swath of supercomputers.

Forget megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes. According to a report last year by Wired magazine, the Utah facility will be able to handle so much information that its storage capacity is measured in what are known as yottabytes. A yottabyte is so big as to be nearly unimaginable by casual computer users: It's enough information to fill 200 trillion DVDs.

It's more information than moves through the entire Internet in a single year.

>> Ground level view of Utah's NSA Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, Friday, June 7, 2013. President Barack Obama vigorously defended sweeping secret surveillance into America's phone records and foreigners' Internet use, declaring "we have to make choices as a society." It was revealed late Wednesday that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone customers.

Question
Associated Press

Does this apply to Americans?

>> In this Thursday, June 6, 2013, photo, Reem Dahir takes a peek at fiancee Abraham Ismail's laptop as they chat at a Starbucks cafe in Raleigh, N.C. The young couple understands the need for surveillance to prevent terrorist attacks, but they worry the government went too far by gathering secreting gathering phone data from millions of Americans.

Answer
Associated Press

Yes, definitely.

>> The U.S. Courthouse in Washington, where the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resides, is seen in a parking garage safety mirror at left, An order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25, good until July 19, for the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly collect the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Question
Associated Press

But Obama said Friday that Americans are not targeted by this program.

>> President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks in San Jose, Calif. , Friday, June 7, 2013. The president defended his government's secret surveillance, saying Congress has repeatedly authorized the collection of America's phone records and U.S. internet use.

Answer
Associated Press

That's also, true. It all comes down to the word "targeted." Here's why.

The agency can't target Americans. But targeting is different from collecting. PRISM dumps massive amounts of data from users all over the world into the NSA's computers, and much of that comes from the accounts of American citizens.

All this information lives on NSA computer servers. At this point, the government has your information but can still say it hasn't targeted you. Basically, PRISM might have all your emails but, until someone reads them, you haven't been targeted.

NSA analysts are supposed to focus only on non-U.S. citizens outside the United States. According to the Post, though, "incidental" collection of Americans' data is common, even at the targeting stage.

Let's say analysts are looking at a suspected terrorist. They pull his emails and all his Facebook friends. Then they take all those people and pull their data, too.

According to NSA training materials obtained by the Post, analysts are required to report to their superiors whenever this results in collection of U.S. content, but, the training materials say, "it's nothing to worry about."

>> In this Tuesday, March 30, 2010, file photo, two ceiling-mounted video surveillance cameras are seen as a man awaits the arrival of a No. 1 subway train at the 34th Street station, in New York. In a 2011 poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 54 percent of those surveyed felt protecting citizens' rights and freedoms should be a higher priority for the government than keeping people safe from terrorists. At the same time, 64 percent said it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice some rights and freedoms to fight terrorism.

Question
Associated Press

How is this legal?

>> This photograph made Thursday, July 6, 2013 in Washington shows a copy of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis," to give the National Security Administration (NSA) information on all landline and mobile telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.

Answer
Associated Press

Again, the PRISM documents don't spell out the whole program. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said late Thursday that it was approved by a judge and is conducted in accordance with U.S. law.

Because the authorization came from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, all the legal justification is classified.

That court was created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and is known in intelligence circles as the FISA court. Cases are heard inside vaults in a Washington federal courthouse. Its rulings are almost never made public.

It's not clear whether the companies agreed to be part of PRISM voluntarily or were under court order but, either way, the companies almost certainly signed agreements with the government spelling out their cooperation. The Post reported that the government has the authority to force companies to participate.

>> In this file photo taken Wednesday, April 21, 2010, shows Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper called the disclosure of an Internet surveillance program "reprehensible" Thursday June 6, 2013 and said it risks Americans' security.

Question
Associated Press

But the companies are denying all this, right?

>> A sign displays the Apple logo outside of the company's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Friday, June 7, 2013. A leaked document has laid bare the monumental scope of the government's surveillance of Americans' phone records — hundreds of millions of calls — in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks.The companies include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

Answer
Associated Press

Sort of.

Apple, for instance, issued a statement saying it had "never heard of PRISM."

That's not surprising. PRISM is a government codename for a collection effort known officially as US-984XN. There would be no reason for the NSA to share the code name with the companies.

Apple's statement continued, "We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."

From what we know about PRISM, there apparently was a FISA court order authorizing this effort. And PRISM does not require direct access to company servers. More likely, in fact, the NSA or the companies would set up a designated route to transfer data to the government. That's easier for the company and less legally problematic for the NSA.

Other companies issued similar statements that don't necessarily preclude their involvement in PRISM. But certainly they raise more questions about what, exactly, was going on. And the companies' statements are another reminder that we still don't know much about how PRISM worked.

>> The entrance to Verizon Business Network Services is photographed Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Ashburn, Va. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued an order on April 25, 2013, ordering Verizon to provide the NSA an "ongoing, daily basis" stream of information all of it's landlines and mobile telephone calls. A leaked document has shown the scope of the government's surveillance of Americans' phone records in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks.

Question
CBS, Chris Usher, Associated Press

Just last week we were talking about how the administration seized the phone records from the AP and Fox News. Was that part of this program?

>> In this Sunday, May 19, 2013, photo provided by CBS News, Gary Pruitt, the President and CEO of the Associated Press, discusses the leak investigation that led to his reporters' phone records being subpoenaed by the Justice Department on CBS's "Face the Nation" in Washington. Pruitt says DoJ's seizure of AP journalists' phone records was "unconstitutional", and that the secret subpoena of reporters' phone records has made sources less willing to talk to AP journalists.

Answer
Associated Press

No. Surveillance authorized by the FISA court can be used only to gather intelligence. It isn't supposed to be used for law enforcement.

In the cases mentioned, the Justice Department is investigating who provided the news organizations with classified information. It's part of Obama's crackdown on officials who speak to journalists without the government's blessing. Since the goal is to bring criminal charges against someone, the Justice Department seized records using run-of-the-mill court orders.

>> The entrance to Verizon Business Network Services is photographed Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Ashburn, Va. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued an order on April 25, 2013, ordering Verizon to provide the NSA an "ongoing, daily basis" stream of information all of it's landlines and mobile telephone calls. A leaked document has shown the scope of the government's surveillance of Americans' phone records in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks.

Question
Associated Press

Is this newly detailed surveillance keeping America safe?

>> People walk in front of the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, June 6, 2013, where the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resides. An order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25, good until July 19, for the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly collect the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Answer
Associated Press

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, says yes. But because both the phone data program and PRISM remain classified, it's impossible to thoroughly verify these claims.

The president can choose what he wants to declassify, which gives him an advantage in the debate for public opinion. And the politics of national security are stark: Terrorist threats tend to raise demand for new, more aggressive surveillance tactics; the absence of attacks helps justify the surveillance.

The documents obtained by the Post and Guardian show that PRISM has been a major source of intelligence, one that provides more information to the president's morning briefing book than any other program.

Obama said Friday that Congress was well aware of these programs and a FISA judge approved them.

>> A man talks on the phone outside the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, June 6, 2013, where the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resides. An order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25, good until July 19, for the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly collect the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Question
Associated Press

So what's the scandal here?

>> This photograph made Thursday, July 6, 2013 in Washington shows a copy of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis," to give the National Security Administration (NSA) information on all landline and mobile telephone calls of Verizon Business in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.

Answer
Associated Press

This week, Americans have gotten a glimpse at a government surveillance machine that has been churning for years, gathering information on its citizens.

The stories are important not because they show rogue, illegal government spying. They matter because they reveal what the government has made legal over the past decade and where that has taken the country.

>> A man sits outside the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, June 6, 2013, where the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resides. An order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25, good until July 19, for the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly collect the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.