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11 Shocking Things Snowden Has Taught Us (So Far)

Falling behind on the increasingly byzantine NSA scandal? We've got you covered.

This article originally appeared on  GlobalPost.

1) Can you hear me now?

The Guardian reported on June 6 that, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Obama administration enabled the National Security Agency to collect caller information from Verizon through a “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, established under President George W. Bush. The government ordered Verizon to hand over call information on a daily basis, including the time, location and duration of calls. The Bush administration began collecting such information in October 2001 from AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, which USA Today reported in 2006.

The consequence:

While US officials sought to reassure the public that such surveillance was legal and part of an ongoing program vital to national security, many Americans called the domestic spying an unnecessary invasion of privacy and lamented that it was even legal in the first place. A national debate quickly erupted.

2) Yes we scan

Snowden also leaked a  secret 41-slide PowerPoint presentation apparently used to train US intelligence personnel. The slides detail the NSA’s involvement in a then-clandestine program called PRISM.

PRISM is the NSA effort to collect massive amounts of data from internet companies such as email content, search histories and file transfers tied to potential terrorism or espionage suspects. The PowerPoint presentation confirmed that the NSA is able to directly access the servers of “major US service providers,” describing collaboration with tech companies like YouTube, Skype, Google and Apple. Google, Apple, and others in the tech industry, however, denied awareness of the program.

PRISM began in 2007 with Microsoft and expanded to include Apple in 2012. To be subject toPRISM surveillance, there need only be “reasonable suspicion” that one of the suspects is outside the United States. Unlike the Verizon court-ordered collaboration, the government can access live information, photos, video chats and data from social networks directly through the companies’ servers without required consent or individual court orders. One slide puts the cost of the program at $20 million per year.

The consequence:

Domestically, PRISM was criticized for its ability to collect data on US citizens unintentionally. Also, the revelations coincided with a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama, adding tension to an already heated dialogue over cyber-espionage between the two countries. The summit in California was focused on US accusations of Chinese cyberattacks; but the US had little credibility in the wake of the Snowden leaks. China was adamant that it too was the victim of US attacks. EU countries were also brought into the mix, and European citizens now worry they have been spied upon through the PRISM program.

3) Boundless Informant

Boundless Informant is a tool that allows the NSA to compile and track the “metadata” it collects around the world. In the month of March alone, nearly 3 billion pieces of information were collected from US networks and 97 billion pieces worldwide,  the Guardian reported on June 8.

A “global heat map” sorts the intelligence sources by country, type, and volume, allowing quick analysis of which countries are most targeted, as well as when the information was gathered. The program is reviewed periodically, according to the documents, with operators able to make recommendations for future improvement.

The consequence:

Boundless Informant proved that despite assurances to Congress to the contrary, the NSA does keep track of the surveillance it performs on US citizens. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, defended the government’s use of the PRISM program and condemned “reckless disclosures” of its details by media. It was the first time Clapper named the program publicly. The intelligence director now faces criticism that he misled Congress when he earlier said the NSA did not have the tools to assess the extent of information gathered on US citizens. Clapper remains adamant that any information gathered on US citizens is “unwitting,” rather than the result of targeted surveillance.

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