Bet you thought that Edward Snowden's move to Russia would field off any more major surveillance revelations. Well, you'd be wrong. As Snowden basks in the warmth of multiple job offers and major diplomatic tensions, the American government is in even more hot water about two brand-new reports of spying measures.
The first is courtesy of U.S. intelligence officials, who have taken a leaf from Snowden's book and anonymously leaked information to the New York Times. We already knew that the government intercepted communication (texts, calls, emails) between foreigners, but now, according to officials, it also turns out that if any American citizen is chatting to or about someone believed to be a "target," all of their data can be read (without warrants) as well.
The definition of "target" is vague: for an agency to intercept someone's data without permission, they must legally be a "non-American citizen abroad" — though no-one's really sure what that means. The new information lends credence to the argument that the spying program is unconstitutional, since it threatens the day-to-day privacy of American citizens (this is not just sifting through anonymous "metadata," as the NSA had sworn blind was the case).
There's more: Some of the "tips" gleaned by the NSA during said spying programs were allegedly leaked to the Drug Enforcement Agency, who proceeded to follow-up on the information, according to a previously-buried IRS document. The practice has also been widely interpreted as unconstitutional, and the Justice Department is reviewing the claims — mentions of which only appeared briefly in the mid-2000s, and stopped abruptly in 2007.
Research centers are frantically reviewing public opinion to figure out exactly what this means to the ordinary American. Responses have been mixed. It turns out that people are more likely to agree with the programs if they know why their emails, for example, are being read — which may be why the NSA's director declared in June that the programs had averted "dozens" of terrorist threats. They're also more comfortable with interpreted "metadata" than actual data, which may lead to a stronger backlash against Thursday's revelations.
Last week, thousands of Americans protested in a number of cities in a movement entitled "Restore the Fourth." The backlash refers to the Fourth Amendment, which protects U.S. citizens from being illegally searched. "NSA, go away!" protesters chanted.
And in other things that are still raging in Snowden's wake, Russia has expressed its "disappointment" that Obama cancelled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It's believed that the last straw for American diplomatic leaders was Russia's offering Snowden asylum for a year, but Russian authorities defended the action by saying that the "situation hasn't been created by us." (Burn.)
The invitation is still open, continued Russia's foreign affairs advisor, because they're happy to continue working together with America on an "equal basis."