In the early days of June, the biggest news report flashing on screens and filling editorial columns in newspapers focused on one name: Edward Snowden.
The 30-year-old government systems administrator was hidden in Hong Kong as top secret information that he leaked about America’s secretive National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCH) made headlines.
Snowden’s exclusive info was turned into several articles by The Guardian and The Washington Post to expose the sensitive information to the public.
Since the beginning of August, Snowden has gained a year long political asylum in Russia. As he sits and plans his next move, the aftermath of his actions can be examined.
In the first article, journalist Glen Greenwald reveals that cellular giant Verizon Wireless gave both its national and international customers’ personal data to the NSA. Over a three month period the company revealed “millions” of Verizon customers’ personal “metadata” to the federal force.
“Metadata” refers to the details of the call itself. This includes location, the duration of each conversation and even the numbers of the call. However, the actual recorded content of a call is not kept by the NSA under this program.
With the use of this “metadata,” NSA agents have the ability to build a profile based on your communications patterns. Further, while the court documents explicitly state Verizon, Greenwald notes “previous reporting has suggested the NSA has collected cell records from all major mobile networks.”
The scope and size of the NSA was revealed as well. Greenwald writes that the agency’s staffing level is “100,000, of whom about 30,000 are military, and the rest private contractors.” What’s more, this agency is said to filter “roughly one billion emails, phone calls and other forms of correspondence every day” and “has up to 20 bases.”
According to Greenwald’s report, the U.S. is not the only country that has eyes on this data. Our country is part of a “five eyes” alliance that also includes Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. These countries are exempt from NSA spying.
Another Snowden-assisted article by Greenwald gives detail about President Obama working with intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential target countries subject to invasive cyber attacks to promote “US national objectives around the world.” A quote by Snowden reads: ‘”We hack everyone everywhere. We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world.”’
Several codenamed technological programs that aid the NSA in its data mining were also revealed.
One of the biggest goes under the pseudonym of “PRISM.” The program has been around since 2007 and collects Internet search history, the content of emails, file transfers and other data. Its targets include foreign interests outside of the U.S. and citizens communicating with foreign people. The program uses data from several big name Internet service providers; Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo are all mentioned in a leaked PowerPoint presentation about the program.
Another program titled “Boundless Informant” has the capacity to visualise the data sources on a map.
National and international citizens aren’t the only targets. A government sponsored program named “Dropmire” is used to spy on several U.S. diplomatic allies. The bugged countries range from “sensitive Middle Eastern countries” to known U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea.
Great Britain has its own data mining tool under the codename “Tempora.” It uses the fiber optic cables found in telephones and Internet routers to collect communication surveillance data. This includes not only aforementioned “metadata,” but the actual content of messages as well. According to a related Guardian article, Britain shares the information it collects from “Tempora” with the NSA.
This is a lot of information to take in at once, but both governments and citizens alike have had reactions all across the emotional and philosophical spectrums. American citizens have expressed both outrage at what they view as a violation of privacy as well as anger at Snowden for potentially endangering the United States’ international relationships.
On an international level, one of the more vitriolic responses to the Snowden leaks has come from Germany whose people have expressed distrust in the American and British governments. They have even gone so far as to terminate a spy treaty from the late Cold War era. However, the German government asserts this was largely just a symbolic gesture with few, if any, consequences.
Russia also has had much to say about the Snowden leaks, with President Vladimir Putin granting asylum to Snowden after initially refusing the offer. This has caused a cancellation of a scheduled summit between the United States and Russia and could have other far-reaching consequences.
In the meantime, Obama vehemently stated during an appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” that there was no spying on Americans happening at this time. While this remains to be confirmed, the president has obviously made damage control from the Snowden fallout a top priority for his administration at this point in time.
Similar backpedaling is occurring in Britain as Parliament demanded the physical computer owned by “The Guardian” containing several of Snowden’s leaked documents be destroyed. While this will not remove any of the previously released information from the cybersphere, it does show that Britain is going to great pains to prevent further leaks.
— Reed Strength and Jake Smith
Information for this piece was gathered from The Guardian.