I am going to do my best to present only what I know and not what I think or suspect, and I’m going to try not to project my opinion onto what I’m about to write. But it’s really important that you understand that the major news outlets ran with a headline, blasted out a few soundbites, and then the story faded from view. The situation is far from over, and it affects you. There have been several more releases of material that the mainstream media have ignored. This post will be short, relative to the amount of information available.
Back in June of 2013 the story broke about a government contractor named Eric Snowden leaking a large volume of documents to several media outlets. The subject of the documents touched on surveillance activities conducted by the National Security Agency. More than just suggesting that it might be going on, these documents detailed the exact entities and agencies involved, the type of intelligence collected, and the methods of collection.
There tend to be three schools of opinion surrounding Snowden and his actions. One group calls him a hero, another group calls him a traitor, and he calls himself neither. It has been opined that the NSA isn’t doing anything we didn’t already know about. The original reporting was that it was just telephone metadata (not the calls themselves, but information about the calls—numbers, locations, durations, owners of the numbers, etc). It seems that the “normal” news sources lost interest shortly after that, but much, much more has come out through the nontraditional outlets.
Here’s one reality: Although we can say that these agencies weren’t doing anything we didn’t already “know” about, we didn’t actually “know” it. We suspected it, and it wasn’t difficult to believe that the government could get any information on us that it wanted, whether or not it actually was getting it.
In addition to the telephone metadata, we also found out that there were (at least) three other programs, named Prism, XKeyscore, and Tempora, dedicated to collection of internet traffic. Even if we “knew” “they” had all the information about us that they wanted, surely this was beyond our collective imagination.
The legality and/or Constitutionality of these programs has yet to be definitively decided, but we should expect challenges to all of the programs and to the concept of domestic surveillance overall. There is so much more to know about this than I’ve put here, and I recommend starting with the Wikipedia article on Eric Snowden. Please pay attention to this. National security is the reason we have the National Security Agency, but there is a delicate balancing act between privacy as American citizens and the need to know everything about everyone under the auspices of keeping us secure.