Did you see “Citizenfour” back in 2014 after Edward Snowden revealed the extensive spying of the National Security Agency (NSA) on its own citizens in the U.S. and other countries abroad?
Snowden went to journalist with The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald, to expose the extent of the spying done by the NSA on its citizens. From Google searches, to email, phone calls, YouTube video, and many other social media sites, the U.S. government was actively gathering data, recording phone calls, and the websites visited by everyone in the U.S.
The film shows how the NSA on the authority of the Patriot Act following the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush authorized “President’s Surveillance Program,” and began spying on people without any limitation for years.
First, the government convinced the major telecommunications companies in the US, including AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, to hand over the “call-detail records” of their customers. According to an investigation by USA Today, this included “customers’ names, street addresses, and other personal information.” In addition, the government received “detailed records of calls they made—across town or across the country—to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.”
Second, the same telecommunications companies also allowed the NSA to install sophisticated communications surveillance equipment in secret rooms at key telecommunications facilities around the country. This equipment gave the NSA unfettered access to large streams of domestic and international communications in real time—what amounted to at least 1.7 billion emails a day, according to the Washington Post. The NSA could then data mine and analyze this traffic for suspicious key words, patterns and connections. Again, all of this was done without a warrant in violation of federal law and the Constitution.
It works like this: when you send an email or otherwise use the internet, the data travels from your computer, through telecommunication companies’ wires and fiber optics networks, to your intended recipient. To intercept these communications, the government installed devices known as “fiber-optic splitters” in many of the main telecommunication junction points in the United States (like the AT&T facility in San Francisco). These splitters make exact copies of the data passing through them: then, one stream is directed to the government, while the other stream is directed to the intended recipients.
In April 2012, long-time national security author James Bamford reported NSA is spending $2 billion to construct a data center in a remote part of Utah to house the information it has been collecting for the past decade. “Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases,” Bamford wrote, “will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”
Snowden worked with Mr. Greenwald to get this information out in the public through the newspaper and then flew out of Hong Kong to Moscow. When landing in Moscow, his passport was revoked and he was temporarily held. He then was given temporary political asylum in Moscow for a year, and later an extended political asylum for three years. He remains there to this day.
What is sad about the situation was the leak was revealed during President Obama’s administration despite his campaign promises for transparency and an end to the practices started by the Bush administration. Despite having the ability to end the practice, he continued it and when confronted by Snowden’s revelations, he painted Snowden as the criminal, defending his own actions, ignoring his own failure to follow through with his word.
Almost a year after the release of “Citizenfour,” the NSA was ordered to stop collecting, querying plaintiffs’ phone records in Klayman v. Obama ruling on November 9, 2015.
Something revealed in the film was that an estimated 1.2 million people in 2013 were on the government’s “watch list” allowing them unfettered access to those person’s records.
Just this week, Forbes and many other news outlets reported that the Trump Administration has applied to reauthorize the controversial NSA spying program in a letter from Daniel Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, which can be downloaded and read here.
Read more on Forbes’ website about the latest application below: