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17 disturbing things Snowden has taught us (so far)

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated in January 2014. It has been updated again.

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Ever since Congress passed the controversial law in October 2011, proponents have argued its provisions give law enforcement and government agencies the power they need to keep the United States safe from terrorist attacks like 9/11. Critics have said  those powers are far too broad. They've stripped away civil liberties and privacy and made it too easy for the government and law enforcement to spy on US citizens without accountability.

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Anthropologie x Cecilia Prado Meadowlark Lg Beige Pink Floral Sweater Midi Skirt, reported on June 6, 2013 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:

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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 to PRISM 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:

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Snowden, speaking with NWT Madewell Slim Wide Leg Crop Jeans,, gave his first press interview with an outlet other than the Guardian after revealing himself as the source of the leaks on June 12. He said he would stay in Hong Kong until he is "asked to leave,” and said that he took up his previous role as a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton with the intent of disseminating state secrets. (Snowden would later fly to Moscow and initiate asylum applications with more than 20 countries, many of them denied.) Snowden also told the South China Morning Post that the NSA has been hacking mainland Chinese and Hong Kong computers since 2009. He claimed the NSA hacked networks at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, home to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange and Hong Kong’s main terminal for all internet traffic.

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Snowden's statements hardened the standoff between China and the United States over hacking. Hong Kong Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok announced that the Hong Kong Internet Exchange has been monitored but appears unaffected, while Chinese University announced that it has not found evidence of hacking on its servers.

The domestic debate in the United States began to reach a fever pitch. A Gallup Poll conducted between June 10 and June 11 placed support among Americans for Snowden’s actions at 44 percent, while 42 percent said his actions were wrong. Still, the poll found that 57 percent of respondents did not support the NSA’s surveillance programs as outlined in the leaked documents, while 37 percent approved.

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There is specific mention in the slides of targeting “the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party,” Lilly Pulitzer Jane Shift Dress Crochet Blue Ibiza. The slides suggest “senior level” members of government in Gordon Brown’s administration, Britain's prime minister at the time, were aware of the intelligence gathering and that the information “was passed to British ministers.” The presentation also alludes to such covert techniques being neither unprecedented nor unique.

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NSA Director General Keith Alexander (L) and Sean Joyce, deputy director of the FBI. (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

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On June 20, the Guardian revealed two more documents obtained by Snowden (viewable Torrid Blue Lace Racerback Pullover Sweater, and hereBrand New Day Designer 2022-23 planner,

The consequence:

While the documents outline the circumstances the NSA must destroy data collected from US citizens, as well as the rigorous steps analysts are supposed to take to make sure a target is outside the United States, they also reveal several ways the NSA can continue to use data collected on US citizens. The revelations appear to contradict statements by Obama and others that the NSA cannot access data on US citizens without a warrant.

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7) Friends who hack together stay together

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The slides indicate that private companies are required to give GCHQ discreet access to tap the cables. The United Kingdom shared that information with the NSA beginning in 2011, giving the US spy agency unlimited access to GCHQ data. The slides show that “850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases.”

The consequence:

Officials and private citizens raised concerns on both sides of the Atlantic that there is insufficient oversight and limited restrictions on the UK’s fiber-optic surveillance system. The close-knit relationship between the US and UK intelligence agencies, as well as the NSA’s unfiltered access to Britain’s world-leading cyber-surveillance stores, came under heightened scrutiny. Some diplomats worried that the revelations could negatively impact EU-US trade discussions, and that China-US cybersecurity talks, already on a tentative footing, could suffer as well.

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The facility at Tsinghua University is one of six backbone networks that comprise the China Education and Research Network (CERNET), through which internet data for millions of Chinese can be accessed. The system was the first of its kind and is now the largest national research hub in the world. It is owned by the Ministry of Education and maintained by the university and other colleges.


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Greenwald said that though the still-secret documents are encrypted, Snowden has made arrangements for the passwords to reach those with the files if he is unable to access them himself.

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The consequence:

The fact that Snowden made multiple copies of the classified intelligence he carries created renewed angst among US officials. New questions were raised as to whether the US intelligence community can adequately stem the current leak and prevent future breaches from occurring.

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10) NSA surveils Europe

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The document reportedly specifies Europeans as a “location target,” with Germans singled out as a major focus of US eavesdropping. The document also mentions telecommunications hacking — first reported by EU officials five years ago — of the EU Council of Ministers and the European Council at the Justus Lipsius Building in Brussels. Calls from an NSA-occupied building at the NATO headquarters outside of Brussells, according to the document, were traced to the Lipsius Building. 

The consequence:

Europeans erupted in anger over the new allegations. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said: "If the media reports are accurate, then this recalls the methods used by enemies during the Cold War."

Grievences with the US surveillance program were particularly evident in Germany where, after a frank conversation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Obama during his visit to Berlin earlier in the month, cybersecurity was a hot topic.  


Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite (left) and French President Francois Hollande. (Jacques Demarthon/Getty Images)

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The list of countries targeted was not limited to EU members or the traditional enemies of the United States, but instead includes the likes of India and Mexico, as well as Greece and Turkey. Gaining insider knowledge of diplomatic relations between the targeted states and the United States was the primary goal of the targeted surveillance, The Guardian reported.

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12) Dilma's dilemma 

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As a result, Lady Skirt Sets to the White House, demanding answers and a commitment from Washington to stop snooping in her country. It was set to be the first state visit by a Brazilian president in about two decades, and the only one scheduled this year at the White House. Although the Obama administration claimed the postponement was a joint decision made by the two presidents, some media described it as the sternest rebuke yet from a friendly nation over NSA leaks.

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13) Your address book is the NSA's address book

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The newly unveiled program expands on the NSA’s reach even beyond the already expansive PRISM and Xkeyscore programs, which gave the government the ability to access nearly all digital communications.

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A new round of revelations, courtesy of Snowden, leaked on Oct. 28 focused on the scope of the United States spying on its own allies, including Germany, France and Spain. 

According to media, the NSA had tapped the phones of some 35 world leaders including close ally German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who branded the snooping unacceptable between friends. Spanish media reports that the NSA monitored 60 million phone calls in Spain in one month, according to the Gucci Rubber Platform Sandals EU35/US5,J. Crew Crew Neck Sweater (UC10),

The consequence:

As a result, tensions are rising between the US and various allies. Merkel personally called Obama on Oct. 23, demanding an explanation, the Faithful The Brand Striped Tunic Blouse size Small reported. Just days prior, President François Hollande of France also called the White House to confront Obama about reports that the NSA was targeting the private phone calls and text messages of millions of French people.

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The Washington Post reported on Jan. 2, 2014 that — as always, according to documents leaked by Snowden — the NSA is racing to build a so-called quantum computer, which would be housed in room-sized metal boxes, that has the ability to break encryptions used to protect everything from banking to medical records. The new quantum computer is part of a $79.7 million program suggestively called "Penetrating Hard Targets."

Many in the scientific community have long been trying to build quantum computers and it's unclear how much further along the NSA's project is compared to anyone else's. "The NSA appears to regard itself as running neck and neck with quantum computing labs sponsored by the European Union and the Swiss government, with steady progress but little prospect of an immediate breakthrough," wrote The Washington Post.

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16) "Dishfire" LOL

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Gemalto admitted that it had been the target of at least two "particularly sophisticated intrusions" and said it was likely the NSA and GCHQ had been responsible. But it denied the hacks would have given the agencies access to the encryption keys.

The consequence:

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