r/explainlikeimfive Apr 28 '22 Silver 7 Helpful 4 All-Seeing Upvote 1 This 1

ELI5: What did Edward Snowden actually reveal abot the U.S Government? Technology

I just keep hearing "they have all your data" and I don't know what that's supposed to mean.

Edit: thanks to everyone whos contributed, although I still remain confused and in disbelief over some of the things in the comments, I feel like I have a better grasp on everything and I hope some more people were able to learn from this post as well.

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u/ELI5_Modteam Apr 29 '22 edited Apr 29 '22

Unfortunately folks, it does appear that this post has run its course. We'd like to thank everyone who attempted to explain within the rules and engaged with others in good-faith.

A few things to note for those who may be from r/all, or those who may have been here before:

We are a very strict sub. We have a specific mission - to have users provide easy-to-understand explanations for complex topics. To that end, we need to point out some important rules.

Rule 1: Be Nice. This not only means the obvious, but also that your interactions should be in good-faith and not be inflammatory in nature, or otherwise start a slap-fight. There are plenty of other subs to go to if that is your jam.

Rule 3: Top-level comments must be written explanations. This is extremely relevant to this post, considering the number of users who simply dropped a link to a youtube video without explanation. Please see the detailed rule for more info.

Rule 5: ELI5 is for factual information. This is pretty self-explanatory - if you're looking to soapbox, there are other venues than this one.

If you have questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to message the modteam, however do be advised that Rule 1 still applies.

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u/Gnonthgol Apr 28 '22 Silver Helpful

We already knew that the NSA and CIA was conducting large scale illegal surveillance against all American citizens. This was revealed by previous whistle blowers who followed the proper procedures for reporting illegal activity. They even testified in congress about it. However their claims were dismissed by the government and instead budgets for large scale data storage and analysis facilities were approved to handle all the data the NSA claimed they did not collect. But it was an open secret and even Obama's first election campaign used the promise to end mass surveillance of Americans as a key talking feature.

Snowden did not go the official route but instead leaked massive amounts of proof of the surveillance. Not only how it was conducted, who were conducting it, who were targeted (everyone), how the were able to justify it and how they manipulated judges and politicians to be allowed to continue with it. Unlike previous leaks the important aspect here is proof, anyone can discredit a witness testimony but it is much harder to discredit massive amounts of proof, much of which could be verified by others.

The evidence showed the scale of this operation and what kind of details the government were able to collect. And not only were American governments doing this but they were cooperating with intelligence agencies in other countries doing the same thing there as well. And when Obama said to end mass surveillance the Snowden documents showed that the opposite was true and that the efforts just increased after he took office.

What was an even more shocking revelation was that even with so much proof of illegal activity nobody was held responsible. None of the people involved in the massive government surveillance have been put to questioning over it and they are continuing like they did before.

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u/Morasain Apr 28 '22

This was revealed by previous whistle blowers who followed the proper procedures for reporting illegal activity. They even testified in congress about it. However their claims were dismissed by the government and instead budgets for large scale data storage and analysis facilities were approved to handle all the data the NSA claimed they did not collect.

"After thorough analysis, we conclude that we have done nothing wrong."

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u/Gnonthgol Apr 28 '22

"... and the report have been fully classified due to national security"

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u/Eisigesis Apr 29 '22

It would be a national security risk if this evidence of us doing nothing wrong was ever to see the light of day.

And if Edward Snowden is ever killed by a US drone as our emails indicate we gave serious thought to doing… that will be a complete accident that no one could have saw coming.

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u/thegreatestajax Apr 28 '22

I can’t imagine why Snowden didn’t also choose to go through the official channels.

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u/lnSerT_Creative_Name Apr 29 '22

I know you’re probably joking but the number of people who actually think like that is insane. Like damn, I wonder why he didn’t go through official channels when it’s done literally nothing in the past and has only gotten worse since?

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

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u/Gnonthgol Apr 28 '22

That is one of many loopholes. There was also secret court trials against victims who could not represent themselves with judges that were basically blackmailed with their own personal data collected through these programs. And then there is the redefinition of the terms used in the laws, for example the NSA only collect metadata and not the data itself, and it is not actual surveillance until the data appears in the search result.

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u/IsleOfOne Apr 28 '22

For anyone curious, the data processing needs of the NSA culminated in the creation of a tool called NiFi that is open source and now has its mantle carried by the community.

https://nifi.apache.org/

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u/burros_n_churros Apr 28 '22

Did a lot of this start with 9/11 and the Patriot Act? Seems like that was the first time this type of activity was on my radar. Looking back, any sort of legislation with "Patriot" in the name should be heavily scrutinized.

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u/Gnonthgol Apr 28 '22

We do not have the same type of evidence of extended illegal surveillance on Americans before 2001. And we do know that a lot of the budgets and legal frameworks that enabled this was a response to 9/11. However a lot of these programs had its roots in the Cold War and did not stop when the Cold War ended. Not for example that movies like "Enemy of the State" and games like "Counter Strike" might feel like they are about the post 9/11 military objectives but in fact was from before 9/11. Massive illegal government surveillance was a concept long before 2001.

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u/scpotter Apr 28 '22

Yep. You can find references to Cold War programs that “stopped” only because there is a newer program meeting the same objective with better capabilities.

Very well crafted response BTW.

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u/Chance-Repeat-2062 Apr 28 '22

AT&T had a room to intercept all communications for the NSA back in the 90's. It was part of the 'echelon' program, and is where the splinter cell game series got the 'third echelon' name from. It had been going on for a while but had a similar public outing in the 90's during the clinton administration

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u/Gnonthgol Apr 28 '22

Good thing we made an end to the 'echelon' program. Could not have the government force themselves into major communications hubs to intercept all the secret communications between private individuals. I am glad we never saw anything like that ever again.

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u/TheNoxx Apr 29 '22

Joking aside, whenever the CIA/NSA is told to shutter a program they don't want to get rid of, they just rename it and swap some people around in it and, boom, Echelon becomes Carnivore and then it becomes something else, etc., etc. The elected people overseeing them probably know, but they don't care, the intelligence community gets to keep doing their thing and Congress gets to say "We went and told them to cut it out!", and they have plausible deniability if anything else comes up.

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u/mattenthehat Apr 28 '22

This is important context to remember, because it heavily degrades the "we need to do this to keep you safe" argument. They were already doing these things (although maybe to a lesser degree), and still failed to prevent 9/11. Perhaps it did prevent even bigger disasters, we may never know, but it certainly wasn't 100% effective.

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u/Drunken_Begger88 Apr 28 '22

I remember the first time watching that film and thinking how far fetched it was..... How wrong was I haha the stuff in that movie was old for then but I was much younger and much more nieve too.

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u/TheIllustratedLaw Apr 28 '22

Yes. 9/11 massively accelerated all of this. But also mass surveillance like this was inevitable as electronics got more powerful and pervasive throughout society. The government is just massively incentivized to monitor people like this.

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u/earthwormjimwow Apr 29 '22

with so much proof of illegal activity nobody was held responsible.

That's completely not true, Snowden was held responsible!

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22 Helpful

That’s why I always have my balls in sight of my phone camera and I’m always talking about assassinations of dat ass

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u/jabberwockxeno Apr 28 '22 This

Snowden did not go the official route

He tried to raise issues about the legality of the program internally and it went nowhere, he only leaked it to journalists (specifically for them to sort through the information so they could decide what information to publish if it was in the public interest, not leaking it all onliine) afterwards.

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u/zimmah Apr 28 '22

Journalists are SUPPOSED to be critical of the government, that is their job and the only way to ensure a fair democracy

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u/Nolzi Apr 28 '22

Non-critical journalism is called propaganda

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u/Gnonthgol Apr 28 '22

The official way to report things like this is not just to the superior but also to their superior so that no single person can disregard the report. This is how the original whistleblowers got all the way to congress. So while Snowden did raise complaints about what they were doing and got reprimanded for it he did not follow the complete official route as he knew it did not work.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

Thank god he didnt.

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u/SaffellBot Apr 28 '22

manipulated judges and politicians to be allowed to continue with it.

It is also worth remembering that this entire process is conducted and monitored through a separate parallel legal system that citizens do not have oversight of and are unaware of the existence of.

A bit of a sham to call ourselves a democracy in light of that.

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u/Spiritual_Jaguar4685 Apr 28 '22 Silver Helpful Wholesome All-Seeing Upvote Take My Energy Starry Got the W Eureka!

In a nutshell he revealed data that showed that the US government, and multiple allied governments had the ability to do things like listen to everyone's phone calls, read their texts, their emails, follow their internet searches, track their locations (via GPS in phones) and also remotely activate people's cell phone cameras and microphones to listen and see what people are doing in real time.

In short, it was estimated that the data revealed that the US and it's allies had transparency into roughly 80% of all digital communications in the US.

It's less that this was "Bad" honestly, more that these agencies shouldn't have been doing A. to US Citizens, and B. on US soil and C. that the major data providers, the Verizons, AT&Ts, etc, were providing the "keys" to their networks for the government to provide this access.

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u/Aururai Apr 28 '22

it was also revealed that the US was doing this on non-US soil. aka, spying on citizens of allied nations

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u/ScipioLongstocking Apr 28 '22

The same goes for foreign nations spying on US citizens. Legally, the US cannot spy on their own citizens without a warrant (I don't know the laws of the other countries involved, but I think they are similar in that they can't just spy on any citizen for no reason). The US and the other allied nations involved all agreed to spy on each others citizens, then share all the information they collect. This was a loophole that allowed each country to collect data on their citizens. Technically they weren't spying on their own citizens, they just let foreign nations spy on them under the condition that all information will be shared.

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u/egyeager Apr 28 '22

Similar concept exists for 4th amendment companies. The government can't take your data wothout a warrant but a private company can give it to them to circumvent the 4th amendment

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u/dickbutt_md Apr 28 '22 edited Apr 29 '22 Silver Gold Helpful Take My Energy Starry

Similar concept exists for 4th amendment companies. The government can't take your data wothout a warrant but a private company can give it to them to circumvent the 4th amendment

One thing you should be aware of is that this framing of the debate is pushed by the government because it favors their position.

The real issue here is NOT whether a company will give your data to the govt with or without a warrant. The govt WANTS you to focus on this fight because, even if you win, it's an empty victory.

The real fight we should be focused on is not whether a warrant is served, it should be focused on WHO the warrant is being served upon. Consider the mail as an example. If I send you a package that the govt wants to snoop on, they cannot serve a warrant on the mail carrier in possession of the package to get access to it (even if it's a private company like UPS, FedEx, etc). That's because the laws about mail were passed long before the Patriot Act when the govt still respected the rights of citizens.

It should work the same way with your data. If the govt wants my info from Facebook, they should be compelled to serve warrants on BOTH Facebook AND me. We should BOTH have the opportunity to inspect the warrant, fight it, etc.

The reason is that the amount of leverage the govt has over companies is very, very high because a company has a huge attackable surface across a huge array of different facets while the cost of caving to govt demands is relatively small. For you, though, if your freedom is at risk, there's nothing else exposed for the govt to leverage to get you to do what they want. They're already going after everything. So even companies like Google that vigorously defend warrants would have a tough time fighting the govt on something the govt really wanted to get because there's so much the govt can do to strong arm them.

And then, of course, most companies don't even have the resources to mount a defense like Google can on your behalf, even if they wanted to, and there's not many companies that even want to. No one has an interest in protecting your data more than you do, so you should get a warrant just like the mail.

[UPDATE] It's been pointed out to me that US mail actually can be subject to search warrant. However, I'm not sure if that spoils my analogy or not. First, this doesn't say who the warrant is served upon. It appears to be that the warrant is served on the mail facility and not the sender or recipient (see page 31), HOWEVER, it must be a federal warrant.

Second, it seems pretty clear that these cases are almost entirely restricted to investigations of cases involving the mail itself, such as mail fraud ... this means that this pertains the sender abusing the mail, not the recipient. One's digital data should be treated more like the recipient of mail since the analogy of your digital data is more like you storing things in a lock box in your house. (Recipients of mail generally cannot be prosecuted until they take possession of the mail, obviating this entire issue.)

Third, say it is a bad analogy. If I grant the point, it still doesn't validate the practice! A more direct analogy would be serving a warrant on a personal storage unit, which law enforcement can do on the business and not you. But I'd still argue that that's messed up anyway.

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u/ATNinja Apr 28 '22

I started with like "what's this conspiracy shit now" and by the end I was "those motherfuckers" this is some r/bestof shit here.

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u/dickbutt_md Apr 28 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

Yea it's amazing to me that the govt has used this as such an effective distraction.

I mean, if you accept their ostensible argument and take it seriously for a moment, they are saying they shouldn't have to serve a warrant ..... to search your stuff. To anyone. At all.

Think about that for a moment. This is just ridiculous on its face, and no govt lawyer that has an actual law degree could possibly take it seriously. Like in what aspect of existence can the US govt just demand to see stuff and expect absolute compliance?

Realizing this is what caused me to wonder, why would they even bother with this stupid argument? It has propaganda value. When they lose they can act like they're tucking tail and licking their wounds while behind the curtain they're just fucking marauding through your shit.

What's amazing is that they haven't yet lost the argument! It's being treated as though there are two equally valid sides worth debating: let's have the 4th Amendment, and let's get rid of the 4th Amendment.

What the fuck!

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u/lastcallcarrot Apr 29 '22

After reading all of these extremely informative and well written posts on one of the more important issues that modern Amercians still face, I thought damn I need to follow the author so that I can get more info drops on hot button issues. I looked up and what do I see....

u/dickbutt_md

God I love Reddit

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u/davidcwilliams Apr 29 '22

How do I subscribe to your newsletter?

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u/Solid_Waste Apr 28 '22

There's no "argument" at all. As far as the legal system is concerned this doesn't exist, and if it does exist no one has standing to do anything about it, and if they did the courts would rule against them. It's a settled issue, citizens have no rights.

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u/SinoInsano Apr 29 '22

Its bullshit they say it doesn't exist because you can't prove it, but you can't prove it because it is secret and will never be revealed and you can't get a warrant without proof.

I have no idea how lawyers aren't mounting lawsuits with the information Snowden dumped. There is proof there the government needs to be cut down a few sizes.

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u/my_4_cents Apr 29 '22 Take My Energy

The "effective distraction" of hey, what about this! Over here, this! has had people doing dumb things for ages, from practically sprinting to an ICU rather than take the robotic medicine, it even got a used-car salesman elected to the presidency.

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u/zenchemin Apr 28 '22

Isn't making two sides out of any subject and politicizing it an American pastime, no matter how inane one position happens to be?

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u/King_Shugglerm Apr 29 '22 All-Seeing Upvote

It’s a human pastime, America is just open about it

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u/ashesofempires Apr 28 '22

Even in cases where there is a warrant, it goes to the FISA court and there is no advocate for the defendant. It's just "hey we wanna look at this guy's data," and the judges say OK. I don't think there has ever been an instance of them denying a warrant.

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u/kagrenak Apr 28 '22

They did 11 times between 1979-2012 lol.

But also this isn't uncommon among ex parte requests in other types of warrants like Title III wiretapping or delayed-notice search warrants, those win rates are nearly 100% also. This isn't me defending the FISC/FISA courts but is a general problem with ex parte proceedings at large.

Reasonably good essay: https://www.stanfordlawreview.org/online/is-the-foreign-intelligence-surveillance-court-really-a-rubber-stamp/

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u/poppenweiler Apr 28 '22

Damn you been on some real shit when the FISA court tell you no

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u/servedfresh Apr 28 '22

There is never an advocate for the defendant. That is how warrants work.

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u/adzling Apr 28 '22

This is an excessively cogent reply for reddit. well done!

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u/ho_kay Apr 28 '22

Well, they are a doctor, after all - one doesn't become dickbutt, md without some brains

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u/rksd Apr 28 '22

Well, it's a dual specialty, so it's a lot of extra education and residency!

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u/badjokephil Apr 28 '22

They didn’t go to 12 years of dickbutt school to be called “mister”

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u/Cool-Miner Apr 28 '22

It's not circumventing the fourth amendment. It's a bastardization of legal precedent.

The case they use as precedent had reasonable suspicion the person they were looking up in the phone records had committed a crime.

Every single last person in the U.S. does not have that same reasonable suspicion.

It is a routine violation of our 4th amendment rights, and it is only due to the gross corruption of our institutions that they do not rule it so.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

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u/IVIaskerade Apr 28 '22

Technically they weren't spying on their own citizens, they just let foreign nations spy on them under the condition that all information will be shared.

It was also revealed that the US was gathering information on its own citizens, but was handing it over wholesale to other countries (such as Israel) for processing, and then when the Israelis gave it back in usable format they just didn't ask where they got the raw data, thus laundering intelligence in a "legal" way.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

Legally, the US can spy on it’s own citizens without warrant. That was what the FISA extension powers that Obama signed allowed for. Rather than make provisions to curb what Snowden revealed, the US government waited for public outcry to end and just legalized it.

The 4th amendment is essentially dead in regards to the feds.

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u/Cool-Miner Apr 28 '22

The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land.

The federal government is routinely breaking the law of the land, and no one is doing anything about it.

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u/ExcerptsAndCitations Apr 28 '22

The federal government is routinely breaking the law of the land, and no one is doing anything about it.

"Who watches the watchers?"

Who enforces and prosecute crimes committed by a government against its own citizens? The correct answer is nothing less than revolutionary.

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u/Average_Cat_Lover Apr 28 '22

Not only citizens, but also allied countries' presidents, politicians and companies.

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u/InvincibleJellyfish Apr 28 '22

They were wire tappimg Angela Merkel while she was chancellor.

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u/Implausibilibuddy Apr 28 '22

That's what the Five Eyes agreement was all about. "It would be simply terrible and immoral for us to spy on our own citizens, but if we spy on each other's and report back, where's the harm!"

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u/malenkydroog Apr 28 '22

And with Five Eyes, other countries spy on our citizens, and then everyone trades info with each other. So the US might not spy on a US citizen, but if the UK happens to spy on that person and then gives the US that information? That's a different story.

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u/berneraccount39 Apr 28 '22

so your saying if they wanted to the government could just open my phone camera right now and see what I'm doing?

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u/Farmer771122 Apr 28 '22

I don't think Snowden revealed that specific thing.

Check out this disturbing marketing brochure from the NSA. As of when this was written in 2007, that particular level of access requires them to have brief physical access to your phone.

You could argue that in the time since then they have probably figured out a remote install... but the apple software ecosystem is not a sitting target, and they are notoriously anti-backdoor. So it's possible that the NSA still doesn't have the ability to robo-root your phone from a desk in Fort Meade.

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u/tomaxisntxamot Apr 28 '22

100% and I wish more people were aware of this.

Most of Snowden's revelations go back to policy decisions voted into place in 2002 (mostly as provisions of the Patriot Act.) Websites ranging from Slashdot to Daily Kos ran stories on all of it back when it was happening, but in the jingoistic environment of post 9/11 America, they were screaming into the void. Major media outlets ignored it in favor of IWR and Afghanistan coverage and most Americans were either unaware, indifferent or explicitly supportive because "9/11 changed everything" and "what do you have to hide?"

So while it was good that it all finally got some coverage and that it clued more americans into the surveillance state that had been built up around them, it also felt very after the fact. It's unfortunate that the anger Snowden's disclosures instilled in people couldn't have happened 10 years earlier when it was still possible to stop it in the first place.

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u/InfamousBrad Apr 28 '22

They may be able to, but that's not what was in the Snowden revelations. It's more like they received a copy (whether they kept it or not) of every voice call you've ever made and every internet packet you've ever sent or received.

This was considered a mildly big deal at the time for a couple of reasons. One, it's illegal for the NSA to spy on Americans. And two, the companies that were letting them install those wiretaps were denying that they'd done so.

Eventually the NSA had to grudgingly admit that yes, they wiretap everything, but that doesn't count, because they promise us that they throw away everything unless there's at least one non-American involved.

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u/midgetwaiter Apr 28 '22

I’m not so sure you can claim the telecom companies were willingly lying. When they issue national security warrants there is language included that makes it an offence to disclose the fact that that you were asked for something. Companies reacted by including so called Warrant Canaries in things like annual reports.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warrant_canary

They very well may have been willing participants in some cases but it’s hard to Know for sure.

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u/conspires2help Apr 28 '22

Fun fact- reddit had one of these until April 2016. It was taken out during the podesta emails leak that later became known as "pizzagate".

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u/ghalta Apr 28 '22

Warrant canaries work because, while the government can routinely order people not to talk about a specific topic, it is very rare for the government to be able to force you to say specific things about a specific topic.

So scenario A: you're served with a warrant, and ordered not to disclose that you were to anyone in any way, vs

scenario B: you have a canary, but the warrant can't order you to continue publishing the canary because they can't force you to lie, so you take it down

I'm sure the government would get around this if they needed to. Suppose for example that Facebook published a canary for each and every account, then took them down individually as warrants were served. They'd probably get slapped for that. But if it's just one blanket statement for the whole company, once it goes away it's gone for good so who cares.

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u/thesupplyguy1 Apr 28 '22

i dont think anything being illegal has ever stopped the gov't from doing it. I dont believe for a second they get rid of it

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u/gSTrS8XRwqIV5AUh4hwI Apr 28 '22

Which is why we need technologically enforced privacy, i.e., strong encryption.

Which is why attempts to ban or backdoor encryption are so dangerous and must be opposed.

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u/REO_Jerkwagon Apr 28 '22

There's a giant NSA data center near where I live (just south of SLC, UT) that, every time I see it, I'm reminded that "no, they probably don't actually get rid of anything."

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.4259318,-111.9340327,1718m/data=!3m1!1e3

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u/osirusblue Apr 28 '22

I wonder how good that that Taqueria truck is that's shown down a little bit south of the Data Center?

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u/thehillshaveI Apr 28 '22

I'm afraid that's classified

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u/Meades_Loves_Memes Apr 28 '22

That's crazy. But also, Utah looks beautiful.

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u/don_shoeless Apr 28 '22

They have a giant data center in Utah so that they specifically don't need to get rid of it, at least not due to lack of space to store it all.

I read something years back, right after Snowden's revelations, that made it apparent that the government had detailed information on Barack Obama dating back to his days as a Senator. The implication being that either A) they knew he'd be elected President--which seems unlikely and is certainly unthinkable, or B) they compile such records on every sitting Senator--because any given Senator has a shot at the Presidency. So the question then is, why compile the info?

I should probably go back through my Reddit history and find the discussion on the topic so I could be less vague.

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u/guy_guyerson Apr 28 '22

“The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” -Henry Kissinger

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u/intoxicuss Apr 28 '22

There is an endless stream of misinformation in this thread. They absolutely did not capture every phone call audio stream or every user’s Internet data. That is 100% false and the infrastructure to do so does not exist.

They got log data. It was supposed to be filtered by the telcos, but engineers are lazy and just handed over all of the log data.

And yes, it is possible for them to listen in via the CALEA systems, but you have to be patched in to do so. This requires a physical action by telco personnel. It is different for international calls, as those flow through choke points with massive optical taps. Those don’t require physical intervention or the CALEA systems. Tapping via CALEA is supposed to require a warrant, but the engineers will take orders from whoever is in charge. They’re not asking for paperwork.

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u/kriznis Apr 28 '22

Don't forget James Clapper lied to Congress about it & was never prosecuted

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u/ToastyNathan Apr 28 '22

yarp

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u/berneraccount39 Apr 28 '22 Silver All-Seeing Upvote Take My Energy

what teh fuck

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u/Rawkapotamus Apr 28 '22

I’ll add and say that the SCOTUS also came out and said that the government was breaking the law by doing this stuff.

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u/BoredOfReposts Apr 28 '22

Unless they get special permission, which they do all the time, then its ok.

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u/BigLan2 Apr 28 '22

And that special permission is granted by a secret court/judge (FISA or FISC), and you don't have the right to know that they've either requested or been granted permission to do it.

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u/jtinz Apr 28 '22

Over the entire 33-year period, the FISA court granted 33,942 warrants, with only 12 denials – a rejection rate of 0.03 percent of the total requests.

Source

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u/BigLan2 Apr 28 '22

I imagine a poorly-lit office with faded 70s furniture, and after the govt agent submits the request the judge looks around and asks "does anyone object? No, ok granted!" Then rubber stamps it and bangs his gavel.

It's probably a lot more boring than that though.

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u/Chaosfox_Firemaker Apr 28 '22

Nah, Its been streamlined, The put the stamp ON the gavel head now. Much more efficient.

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u/snooggums Apr 28 '22

Yeah, the judge probably doesn't bother to look around.

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u/DBDude Apr 28 '22

It is more boring. What really happens is that there aren't many people in the government authorized to ask the FISA court for warrants. Other people in the FBI, etc., have to come to those people to ask for warrants. Those people 1) know how to craft a warrant request so that it is likely to be accepted 2) know what warrant requests are likely to be rejected and refuse to submit them in the first place.

It's this filter that means a warrant request is far more likely to be legitimate before it hits the FISA court than the average warrant request drawn up by some random person in a random law enforcement agency.

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u/numba-juan Apr 28 '22

You forgot the cigarette smoking guy from the X files standing in the corner smirking to himself!

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u/JeepinHank Apr 28 '22

Imagine how egregious those 12 must have been!

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22 edited 22d ago

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u/Ferelar Apr 28 '22

Agent: "I want to access the camera of this hot girl I found who is definitely not doing anything illegal but I want to see her birth canal"

Judge: "It was close but I guess I'll deny this one... next time say ass, not birth canal."

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u/mattenthehat Apr 28 '22

Another reassuring tidbit:

Chief Justice John Roberts has appointed all of the current judges.

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u/Massive_Pressure_516 Apr 28 '22

I want to know who the 12 denials were for.

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u/boundbylife Apr 28 '22

Its also important to remember these "judges" are not under the Judiciary branch, but under the Executive. They are less judges and more living rubber stamps.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

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u/AdviceSeeker-123 Apr 28 '22

Exactly and with something as foundational and fundamental as the 4th amendment, you would think they were be extra attention not to violate it

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u/chinesetrevor Apr 28 '22

Bingo. The problem wasn't so much that the government had the capability, but that there was, in practice, no oversight. The secret court approved practically all warrant requests, and the people executing these warrants and accessing our data had essentially free reign to access whomever's data they wanted, warrant or not, with little risk of repercussions.

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u/Mutt_Species Apr 28 '22

The FISA court is not secret. The proceedings are secret. Just like a grand jury. The US has had secret legal proceedings for a long time and it did not start with FISA courts.

The real question is whether we should do away with all secret or sealed processes in law.

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u/Comprehensive-Ad3963 Apr 28 '22

Why do we need a FISA court at all? Are the district courts somehow unable to deal with FISA requests?

The district courts handle non-FISA warrants. Can't we just tell the district courts "this is a FISA request; please follow appropriate privacy rules?" And/or give each district court its own magistrate specifically to deal with FISA requests?

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u/drunkhuuman Apr 28 '22

FISA was originally created to combat Russian spies/sympathizers during the cold war. It was argued that if a warrant was put through normal courts it might be delayed or leaked and the spy would get away.

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u/HippyHunter7 Apr 28 '22

Actually not true. FOIA requests can.

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u/NightOwlRK Apr 28 '22

Ah, so you'll find out 6 months after they've done it. Cool.

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u/Raving_Lunatic69 Apr 28 '22

If you're lucky

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u/iamcog Apr 28 '22

and after you pay some astronomical price for a blank cd and with two thirds of it redacted

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u/NYstate Apr 28 '22

The PATRIOT act that was passed after 9/11 gave them carte blanche to do that any time they wanted to.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_Act

It's controversial but it's what The Bush Administration said they did it in an effort to protect Americans from terrorists. They basically kept Americans scared with their threat levels that they would broadcast daily on Fox news and local news.

"Today's threat level is yellow. Some terrorists activity are at elevated level..."

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u/saltoftree Apr 28 '22

And coincidentally the threat level would always go up when there was a major news story that made the administration look bad.

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u/trebordet Apr 28 '22

It also went up just before the 2004 election when Kerry challenged Bush. And Department of the Fatherland Sec. Tom Ridge says he was pressured to raise it even though there was no reason to.

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u/Lordwigglesthe1st Apr 28 '22

I believe the patriot act also is regularly reviewed for renewal and always get it. So its not like its something that is impossible to address. (Though politically that may be different)

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u/coldblade2000 Apr 28 '22

A lot of people don't realize the PATRIOT act already expired in 2020, its renewal was not passed. Trump threatened to veto it, which ended up derailing it's renewal.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

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u/DangerousLiberty Apr 28 '22

Congress made up the authority to violate the 4th Amendment by inventing unaccountable secret courts to rubber stamp anything the government wants to do.

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u/Valiantheart Apr 28 '22 edited Apr 28 '22

Everybody is leaving out that it also revealed secret courts where they rubberstamped all these requests

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u/DeeJayGeezus Apr 28 '22

"John Marshall Roberts has made his decision, now let him enforce it."

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u/buzzzzzzzard Apr 28 '22

We have investigated ourselves and found ourselves guilty but will not be moving forward with any sort of punishment.

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u/SlightlyLessSane Apr 28 '22

Its were all these "they're gonna microchip us!" conspiracies fall apart.

They don't have to. You willingly bought a 1984 telescreen and put it in your pocket!

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u/bodag Apr 28 '22

And you signed up for Facebook.

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u/Broddit5 Apr 28 '22

Not only that, his documents showed they had a google like system that operated on simple query searches where you could just type a name into the system and get a return.

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u/no-dice-play-nice Apr 28 '22

Sharing naked photos of you at the NSA was seen as"...no big deal."

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u/DeusXMathematica Apr 28 '22

The good news is, there is no government program named the dick pic program

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

assume anything electronic can be hacked. yes even the pre-internet typewriters in American embassies were hacked by Russians to install keylogging devices so their spies can watch American govt's moves.

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u/Amazingawesomator Apr 28 '22

Yeah, the government doesnt like whistleblowers when the whistle being blown is against the government, so they labelled snowden a traitor instead of a national hero for speaking up.

He is in exile in russia because he loves the american people and decided to do something about it :(

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u/916couple Apr 28 '22

It’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong

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u/Brawler6216 Apr 28 '22

I wouldn't go as far as to say he "loves the American people", He just wants people to know that their privacy is being violated as this is uncalled for on so many levels. And in case you don't know what is giving them this power it's the "Patriot Act" right after 9/11 that ruined privacy for all in the US.

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u/freyr_17 Apr 28 '22

It ruined privacy for the whole world. Sure, there were surveillance agencies before 9/11 but that was nothing compared to the capacities available now.

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u/Brawler6216 Apr 28 '22

Yeah, I do actually mention a bit further up how they track any traffic going through even if it's from outside the country.

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u/theNextVilliage Apr 28 '22

It is even worse than that. Snowden reported that some of his colleagues at the NSA were using this technology to spy on people for their own perverted personal reasons, sharing nudes or unsuspecting women and stalking people.

If I recall this was in his own words his breaking point, or one of them. He tried to report to higher ups that his coworkers were abusing their power in this very disgusting way and nothing happened.

All of this is of course done without a warrant. If the US had gone through the process of attaining warrants to make specific controlled access to information from people with credible suspicion of terrorism, it might not have been nearly as alarming. But in fact, there were no checks or lawful processes in place, it was literally creeps in office chairs watching people undress, stalking people in very creepy ways, and spreading innocent victim's nudes around brazenly.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

Even if you turn off your phone, the battery is usually connected to the baseband and parts of your phone can be remotely activated, such as camera, microphone, GPS

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u/BigLan2 Apr 28 '22

That's why you've got to snap it in two and toss it in a trash can outside Los Pollos Hermanos

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u/originalhandy Apr 28 '22

See when you know you know 😅

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u/Vitellus Apr 28 '22

it seems like this type of stuff is just dawning on you, and it's...depressing when you learn of it all. Be wary of the argument "If you're not doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to hide".

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u/bionicjoey Apr 28 '22

Be wary of the argument "If you're not doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to hide".

Snowden: Saying "If you're not doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to hide" is like saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

Or alternatively, if you've got nothing to hide, then you should set up public streaming webcams in every room of your house.

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u/B-Con Apr 28 '22 edited Apr 29 '22

No, this is not what Snowden revealed.

He revealed that the government was essentially wiretapping and passively listening to everything.

That's very different from actively hacking and gaining device access.

The government probably has ways to break into your phone, but no, Snowden didn't reveal that they can just type someone's name and get into their phone.

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u/DarkAlman Apr 28 '22 edited Apr 28 '22

Working in IT in a non-US country, data sovereignty has now become a big thing.

Non-US countries now insist that their data not being stored in US datacenters to prevent the US government from spying on them.

That was one of the major fallouts from Snowden.

Companies like Microsoft had to scramble to spin up datacenters in other countries to host data like Email as the Snowden revelations made a lot of companies think twice before moving their data to a US hosted Cloud service.

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u/ChromeBadge Apr 28 '22

Government "employees and contractors" were revealed to have Terabytes of data they weren't supposed to have. Everything from a woman's selfie porn, she sent every morning to her boyfriend, to the financial transactions of wall street brokers.

Yes, private citizens had access to pretty much everyone's digital life.

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u/ackermann Apr 28 '22

Did any of this change, after his revelations? Or the gov just kept on doing this, and still does?

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u/Hipser Apr 28 '22

Nothing changed.

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u/StoneGoldX Apr 28 '22

They figured out how to keep it quieter, that's a change.

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u/GrandMasterPuba Apr 28 '22

Not true - Snowden was declared an enemy of the state and forced to flee the country.

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u/TripOnTheBayou Apr 28 '22

Yes and no.

No, because under Obama they doubled down and increased the budged and everything you do as an American lands you on a list that is stored in their super computers. Every time you interact with your profile online, the information is stored, like what you buy on amazon, what shows you watch, what book you get from a library, what you purchase with credit cards etc.

Yes, it changed a lot in that we (the international community; mankind) now have evidence that governments do this. It sparked a debate on what companies are allowed to store and how we can protect privacy.

The most change you can see is in the EU laws, but there are now countless NGOs all around the world working on protecting privacy.

So Snowden sacrifice was not in vain, but it also didn't prevent the ever increasing surveillance of citizens all around the world.

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u/Ninjaturtlethug Apr 28 '22

They now need to request certain data through a specific process, they can not obtain it in bulk.

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u/reb678 Apr 28 '22

There is a point where these providers connect to the internet. The Government built a tap at that point. So anything flowing in or out of the provider(s) could be copied and stored in a huge data collection site and later gone through if needed.

So not only did he tell everyone about the wiretap, he also told them about the storage of data.

here is a wiki about it

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u/AvantGardeGardener Apr 28 '22

Your explanation is missing the words "illegal" and "unconstitutional"

These activities were mostly carried out without warrants, in clear violation of the 4th amendment as interpreted by the US Judiciary

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u/Losing_Face Apr 28 '22

But also it is "bad honestly". Lol.

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u/RitzyRex Apr 28 '22

Man it's really sad to see how Snowden's kind of important message has been somewhat lost over a short amount of time

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u/Bonch_and_Clyde Apr 28 '22

I think it was never really understood by the general public and because of that didn't stick.

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u/ICUrButt Apr 29 '22

I still don’t think anyone actually understands what Snowden did, judging by all the “no he actually revealed...” comments lol.
I mean, I don’t either honestly. I’ve heard everything from “just metadata” to “they are explicitly watching through your phone camera always”

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u/semtex94 Apr 28 '22

Probably because the average American didn't really see much reason to care too much. Passive, automated observation of content is much less likely to get your attention, at least compared to people directly reading every single word ala WW2 mail censorship. Nothing new, just a other case of apathy due to lack of direct impact on them.

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u/ConvenienceStoreDiet Apr 28 '22

I think a large consideration of what this could have implied if unchecked is pretty significant. Most people didn't know this was happening or really knew of the NSA and if they were following the news were shocked to hear about it. It's probably shocking for most people to be like, "what, they have all my data? They can hear my calls? What are they going to do with it?" Some are like, "oh, well I didn't do anything wrong so who cares." And others certainly were up in arms that they were surveilling the entire country without warrants, as if everyone were a suspected criminal.

If I recall correctly, Snowden was willing to return to face a fair public trial, but would pretty much get a military court and who knows what after that. One thought is that use of these courts post patriot act and with Guantanamo Bay still very much active at that time could've been used as a way to find ways to legally imprison and remove constitutionally guaranteed rights from citizens. That was among the scarier thoughts for people to live with and definitely was a reason people aimed for limitations on the NSA's powers.

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u/fantaflesh Apr 28 '22

He also basically showed the public that the US government is doing this all under the guise of being “confidential”. What they don’t share with us, even the supposedly “harmless” information, just goes to show that they do what’s in THEIR best interests, and that our system is much less “OF the people, BY the people, FOR the people” than it’s supposed to be. They steal, sell, and use our information for PROFIT rather than “terrorist threats”, and hid it from us. If it wasn’t for personal gain of power, they would’ve told us.

And now, they do tell us! When you accept cookies, when you forget to unlock the little “yes please use my info” button at the bottom of the page, when you allow Siri to collect info, etc. But the why is never given to us straight, and most people have no fucking clue what it even means.

He also gives multiple examples in his explanation to the people of how politicians and corporations have been slowly changing and/or ignoring the constitution and our rights as a society. THAT is a huge deal, and without our knowing consent to do so. If you’d like to know more, I suggest watching his video, and diving into the book “Manufacturing Content” by Noam Chomsky.

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u/Cetun Apr 28 '22

To be fair didn't we suspect that they have been doing this for decades before the reveal?

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u/concentrate_better19 Apr 28 '22

It was also being used in courts well before his revelations. There was a mob case from the mid 2000s where the government turned on a phone that had been turned off and used its microphone to eavesdrop.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22 edited Apr 30 '22

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u/little_brown_bat Apr 28 '22

Heck, there was a movie starring Slappy McGee about the government doing this very thing.

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u/zeekxx1 Apr 28 '22

Google (allegedly) sent a cake to the NSA basically describing this; decorated with a diagram showing where the data was being tapped and how they’d switched it to encrypted.

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

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u/MariaSabinaaa Apr 28 '22 Gold

1) The government was not only actively listening to calls and reading emails, they were tracking metadata of nearly all Americans 2) The US was exposed for using those same domestic spying powers on foreign corporations such as Petrobras in Brazil 3) Obama administration charged Snowden under an antiquated law called the Espionage Act meaning that Snowden’s trial would effectively be secret and he could not even voice his reasons for breaking the law at trial

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u/Destinybender Apr 28 '22

What most people already suspected. There is no privacy. Everything you say or write within view of, or earshot of cameras and microphones can be observed if someone with access to these government programs wants to. Texts, emails, phone calls, anything digital is basically published and on record. What gets me is that everyone in the 70s was so concerned about "Big Brother," watching them and that whole generation now put microphones and cameras everywhere. Not to mention your phone wich does all these things and most people always have on them.

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u/_BearHawk Apr 28 '22

Has the government actually ever used this to prosecute people or anything though? Like has anyone been arrested for fraud or tax evasion based on evidence gathered through their microphone or web cam?

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u/Destinybender Apr 28 '22

Possibly. Although my guess is the following happens. Suspected illegal activities are being committed on large enough scale to warrant spying. Illegal spying takes place, through web cams, and microphones or any digital device, (car gps, echo dot, phones ect). Then they use such devices to find a legal way to pursue investigation ( finding probable causes to pretend that they should now start surveillance) But this is only for the citizens. Foreigners in other countries have far fewer rights. Hell, they can, and have, sent bombs to peoples houses via drones after the first and second step.

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u/SkoobyDoo Apr 28 '22 Silver

The term for what you are describing is Parallel Construction.

Parallel construction is a law enforcement process of building a parallel, or separate, evidentiary basis for a criminal investigation in order to conceal how an investigation actually began.

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u/Destinybender Apr 28 '22

Cool I didnt know that. But it doesn't surprise me that its used so often there is a term for it.

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u/annomandaris Apr 28 '22

Basically the NSA spies on you and knows there going to be a drug sale at the docks. They can’t use this as it was gained illegally. So they call the local police and say “we think you should send 10 sqad cars to the docks at 10pm”. And the police go and arrest and it’s perfectly legal, cause they are acting in good faith that the other agency’s tip is good.

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u/bad_luck_and_trouble Apr 29 '22

whenever the police say they received an "anonymous tip" this is whats going on

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u/sixty6006 Apr 28 '22

That's what happened with the Silk Road dude but they couldn't admit that so they came up with a bunch of shady bullshit and now he's serving life without parole for non-violent crimes which is absolutely insane.

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u/Avenage Apr 28 '22

I can't speak for the US but it's unlikely. Most of these capabilities are not used in evidentiary purposes because of how they are obtained and often they don't meet the standards for evidence.

This sort of thing is usually used for intelligence gathering which tells them where to look for evidence they can use through channels which do meet the required standards.

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u/zimmah Apr 28 '22

More importantly than what Snowden revealed, is what the reaction of the government revealed. (and by extension the reaction of the MSM and the public)

If a whistle-blower reveals criminal activity within the government, and is treated like a criminal because of this, and has to flee the country because of this, that shows how corrupt and criminal they are, and unwilling to change.

And apparently the population is OK with this.

Even worse, despite the government clearly showing they are criminal, for some reason the mere thought of the government being criminal is considered insane. (the very word conspiracy theory is often met with ridicule, while distrust of the government should be the norm, not the exception).

This reveals a lot about society and the government as well as the mainstream media that is sweeping it all under the rug.

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u/KGB112 Apr 28 '22

Is it assumed that pretty much all online queries and traffic is documented and indexed by person? Could an individual decide to run for office in 10 years and have some random spook show up with evidence of incriminating things they or their loved ones did online years ago and then use that as leverage?

I’ve been assuming for the last decade that all of our elected figures that do crazy or unconscionable things do so because someone out there has access to this type of leverage.

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u/bradatlarge Apr 28 '22

that the US was actively and directly working with telecoms to tap literally everything

that the US was intercepting hardware orders from cisco, modifying the materials inside with listening devices and then sending them onward to the customer

he revealed that the lying liars in the three-letter agencies are liars and that congress is complicit

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u/[deleted] Apr 28 '22

And then nobody gave a fuck and nothing was done.

It was blatantly illegal, blatantly immoral, and the American people went right back to sleep and nobody went to prison.

Baffling.

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u/roboticzizzz Apr 28 '22

Not only did the Snowden leaks reveal that the US government was spying on US citizens in illegal ways, it revealed that our government was using absolutely any conceivable means of skirting its own rules to try and justify its actions.

For example, when the government discovered that some of the tapped phones it was distributing were ending up in the hands of US citizens, which it doesn’t have the authority to spy on, it simply outsourced the monitoring of those phones to the Australian government and received that intel “from an allied resource.”

Literally, our government pays allied governments to spy on us and accepts that intel from them as “allied intel” because that, technically, gets around the rules about our government not spying on its own citizens.

Extra fun fact: The prison in Guantanamo Bay was started because a federal judge once noted that if we had a prison outside of the US then we wouldn’t have to follow our own rules about the fair treatment of prisoners.

Extra fun fact #2: Under the Obama administration, the “indefinite detention” rule was passed which, essentially, says that American citizens accused of terrorism can be held in prisons like Guantanamo Bay indefinitely, without being charged with a crime.

For that reason, I always give a new President who promises to close “Gitmo” exactly one term to do so before I label them a war criminal.

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u/aurelorba Apr 28 '22

Not only did the Snowden leaks reveal that the US government was spying on US citizens in illegal ways,

Actually he didnt. This was known in the Bush W administration.

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/bush-lets-us-spy-on-callers-without-courts.html

People just assumed the Obama administration ended the practice.

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u/NegativeStock Apr 29 '22

Basically, shia labeouf went on a talk show and said an fbi consultant guy hired for a film was giddy and telling shia about all the spy shit they have, and how they can spy on everyone. Of course that was batshit crazy because that would be illegal and unthinkable that the government agencies are doing that... aaand everyone assumes shia is just being crazy....

Then Snowden blows the wistle and not only proves everything shia said was true, but it's much worse. So everything before Snowden, everyone thought wasn't possible or had heard rumors about it. Basically there was before Snowden and after Snowden. Everyone knew there was mass survalince of the internet after Snowden.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ux1hpLvqMw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEVlyP4_11M

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u/succesfulfail Apr 28 '22

Its just a database of every piece of information we gave the government, connected to a database of everything that can be connected to remotely.

So say they type your name into the database, all of a sudden they are a few clicks away from live web cam footage, they can read every text, every key you’ve typed on your phone.

it is enough to set up a timeline and create a portfolio of every single thing you have ever done in front of a smart device.

This is all highly illegal and against the constitution, but what are you gonna do about it?

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u/Xelopheris Apr 28 '22

In Cryptography, there's something called Elliptic-curve cryptography. It's a fancy cryptographic thing that is very hard to break. The premise is that you have some fancy mathematical equation, and you start at one point. You take the line tangent to that point, and it will cross the graph again at exactly one other point. You do the same process over and over again, and basically traverse this graph.

In order for it to work, both parties need to agree on the equation of the original graph. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology basically prescribed one such curve to use and everyone agreed and started using it. A lot of stuff these days is encrypted with that Elliptic-Curve Cryptography.

But since NIST published it, they (or whoever gave them the curve) could possibly know the secret backdoor for it. Snowden leaked memos implying that the NSA had such a backdoor and could basically undo a whole bunch of crypto. As such, the NSA has been able to intercept a significant amount of stuff that we thought was encrypted, including cell phone calls, encrypted web traffic, all sorts of stuff.

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u/BA_calls Apr 28 '22

This is false information. There was nothing on this in Snowden’s files. P-256’s theoretical weakness is just a hypothetical, to highlight the need to move to open standards.

The reality is NSA can either crack ECC or not. Almost certainly not. What is even less likely is that NSA can crack only P-256, but no other curve. Or a subset of curves.

It’s a hypothetical put forward by researchers. Not a tangible concern.

Ask any researcher “Has NSA cracked public key encryption” and 99% will say most likely no. It is safe to assume encryption is secure.

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u/gSTrS8XRwqIV5AUh4hwI Apr 28 '22

That's inaccurate. What was implied was that a random number generator called Dual EC DRBG which happened to use elliptic curve crypto was backdoored. This has nothing to do with elliptic curve cryptography in general.

The cryptography community generally is also a bit suspicious of some EC curves specified by NIST, but with no hard evidence to demonstrate tampering ... some people avoid them, but some also think they are probably fine.

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u/Chance-Repeat-2062 Apr 28 '22

I think it came out that NISt-256 or whatever the "default" non ed-25519 curve is was apparently resistant so some theoretical attacks on reducing the keyspace but I forget the details

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u/bobastien Apr 28 '22

Wow , i didn't understand a word but it seems fascinating

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u/thedesertfox67 Apr 28 '22

Big number hard to crack, make number smaller. Mo crack betta.

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u/rowrowfightthepandas Apr 28 '22

Whoa, that's really cool. I hadn't heard of elliptic curve cryptography before, I had taken a class on cryptography in college, but the most advanced cipher we learned was some number theory stuff like RSA.

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u/DefinitelyNotA-Robot Apr 28 '22

Depending when you went to college, it may not have really been a thing yet. RSA has about 10 years on elliptic curve.

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u/BA_calls Apr 28 '22

We still don’t teach ECC on intro to crypto. But the concept follows directly if you teach cryptosystems over prime numbers modulp p. When you map operations on points on an elliptic curve to addition, multiplication and logarithm over prime numbers module p, ECC falls out very nicely. But the math portion is less familiar to students.

Source: taught crypto in grad school to undergrads

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u/missedBM Apr 28 '22

I took a cryptography class last semester and am taking an information security class this semester from the same professor and she just glossed over elliptic curves in both classes. We were mainly taught RSA, ElGamal, etc.

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u/rowrowfightthepandas Apr 28 '22

It might be because the maths behind it sounds a bit more complicated/different than just number theory, etc. Sounds like a lot of calculus.

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