Former CIA Employee, Snowden, Blows Whistle on NSA’s Dragnet Surveillance

From Truth Out:

By Marjorie Cohn
Monday, 10 June 2013

Just as Bradley Manning’s court-martial was getting underway, another brave whistleblower dropped a bombshell into the media: The Obama administration is collecting data on every telephone call we make. Nearly 64 years to the day after George Orwell published his prescient book 1984, we have learned that the “Thought Police” are indeed watching every one of us. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” Edward Snowden told the Washington Post.

A former undercover CIA employee who has worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) for four years, Snowden provided a secret order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to the Guardian. The order requires Verizon on an “ongoing daily basis” to provide the NSA information about all phone calls in its system both in the United States and other countries. Glenn Greenwald wrote that it “shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.” That secret order is scheduled for declassification on April 12, 2038.

The order, issued under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, mandates that Verizon provide daily phone records for all “communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” The government is collecting “metadata” on our phone communications. That is, the identities of the sender and recipient, and the date, time, duration, place, and unique identifiers of the communication. Administration officials defending the program claim they are not reading the content of our calls.

But, as ACLU’s Ben Wizner and Jay Stanley note, “Even without intercepting the content of communications, the government can use metadata to learn our most intimate secrets – anything from whether we have a drinking problem to whether we’re gay or straight … The ‘who,’ ‘when’ and ‘how frequently’ of communications are often more revealing than what is said or written.” For example, “Repeated calls to Alcoholics Anonymous, hotlines for gay teens, abortion clinics or a gambling bookie may tell you all you need to know about a person’s problem.” And, they add, “URLs often contain content – such as search terms embedded within them,” so that “the very fact that we’ve visited a page with a URL such as ‘’ can be every bit as revealing as the content of an email message.”

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