While you’ve likely heard of Edward Snowden and understand that the documents he leaked demonstrated how the US National Security Agency was utilizing worrisome mass surveillance techniques, you may be a little fuzzy on what exactly those techniques were. This article will provide an overview of the most important revelations that the Snowden leaks unearthed.
Firstly, Snowden’s leaked documents demonstrated how secret court orders had been made that enabled the NSA unbridled access to Americans’ phone records. The first story published by the Guardian showed that major American phone company Verizon had been handing basically all of its customers’ phone records over to the federal government. Later, it become clear that basically every major telephone company in the US was secretly doing the same. Public awareness of these data transactions led to a major uproar that ultimately resulted in President Obama’s endorsement of a reform to the program and the passing of the first law through the House of Representatives that attempted to change the program.
24 hours later, Snowden revealed the existence of PRISM, a program that allowed the NSA to request user data from major tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. The companies are then compelled by law to comply with these requests. After the companies were outed, they began to fight for the right to be more transparent about government data requests.
Snowden also revealed that the British spy agency, Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, was working closely with the NSA in a program codenamed Tempora that involved tapping fibre optic cables all around the globe. A German newspaper ultimately revealed the companies collaborating in the Tempora program, which included Verizon Business, British Telecommunications, Vodafone Cable, Global Crossing, Level 3, Viatel and Interoute.
Snowden’s documents included stories about the NSA spying on world leaders and foreign governments. The documents went so far as to demonstrate that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone and spied on Brazil’s President Dilma Roussef, Mexico’s former President Felipe Calderon, the French Foreign Ministry, and leaders at the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Toronto.
The revelation of the NSA’s powerful spying tool XKeyscore was another bombshell; the NSA apparently uses XKeyscore to search “nearly everything a user does on the internet” through data that it intercepts all around the world.”
Snowden also showed how the NSA had been attempting to circumvent widely used web encryption technologies by forcing companies to install backdoors, hacking into servers and computers, or even promoting the use of weaker algorithms.
The elite NSA hacker team codenamed Tailored Access Operations or TAO was also revealed to the public for the first time through the Snowden revelations.
The NSA was also revealed to be hacking into Yahoo and Google data centers without the companies’ knowledge. Tech companies were outraged by this overstepping of rights and laws. Google and Yahoo both announced their plans to strengthen and encrypt their links in order to avoid surveillance.
Additionally, it was revealed that the NSA intercepts 200 million text messages every day worldwide through a program it calls Dishfire. The NSA apparently calls the collected messages a “goldmine to exploit” for personal data of all shapes and sizes.
Finally, and perhaps most amazingly, it was revealed through the Snowden leaks that the NSA intercepts and stores every phone call made in the Bahamas and Afghanistan through a program called MYSTIC. The NSA even collects every phone calls’ metadata in Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines.