The Week in Snoops and Leaks


nsa, nsa surveillance, nsa leaks, edward snowden, wikileaksIt’s been a fast-moving week in the snoops and leaks department, which includes more evidence that the U.S. government is tracking our movements on social media and the Internet. Here’s a peek at the week that was.

  • XKeyscore:  Just when you thought that things might be quieting down from whistleblower Edward Snowden, here comes an exclusive from The Guardian on a program within the Prism initiative known as XKeyscore, a National Security Agency tool that “collects nearly everything a user does on the internet.” From online chats, to emails and browsing histories of millions of Americans, it’s the “widest reaching” tool yet that enables the government to collect vast databases of detail from Americans without any prior authorization needed.

That includes social media platforms, such as Facebook chats and even Facebook comments.

The vast amount of data can be sorted and searched in a variety of ways. As one slide from the leaked presentation indicates, the ability to search HTTP activity by keyword permits the analyst access to what the NSA calls “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.” The information first came to light through a video interview with Snowden and The Guardian that was posted online when Prism first came to light.

In an interview this week with PBS’ Judy Woodruff, an NSA official confirms that the agency listens “word for word” to every domestic communication.

  • Is Prism working? Perhaps thanks in part to the NSA program, 18 embassies around the world will be closed on Sunday, and the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory for Americans traveling anywhere in the world through the end of August.  The government says the warnings were issued because of the increased threat from al-Qaeida in the Middle East and northern Africa.

  • Snowden Finds Home in Russia:  The answer to the question, “where in the world will Edward Snowden go,” has been answered. Russia allowed former NSA contractor Snowden to leave the airport and granted the American asylum for up to one year.

  • Manning a Martyr? Bradley Manning, the Wikileaks source, was found guilty this week on 20 counts but found not guilty of espionage, the harshest charge he faced.  The verdict could cool future whistleblowers from coming forward and might embolden the Obama administration in continuing to harshly prosecute those who leak government secrets to the public.

Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, calls Manning a ‘martyr,’ and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, told the Daily Beast that the precedent would have curbed virtually all sources of investigative reporting. The former Army private currently awaits sentencing.

Among the military judge’s controversial rulings, she found that evidence that al Qaeda had obtained information via WikiLeaks was relevant to proving “wanton publication.” According to the Daily Beast, the offense is intended to proscribe the unauthorized disclosures of large data sets by individuals and publishers empowered by the Internet’s low cost and accessible means of distribution. The former assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of State, Philip J. Crowley, called Manning’s leaks “industrial scale.” While a defense expert witness testified that Manning’s leaks were proportional to the Information Age he lives in.

Readers, how do you feel about the latest news that government is monitoring Facebook and other social media platforms?

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