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Metadata Doesn’t Always Mean Metadata: New Snowden Revelations Reveal Government Spying Went Much Deeper

Metadata Doesn’t Always Mean Metadata: New Snowden Revelations Reveal Government Spying Went Much Deeper

by P. H. MadoreJuly 4, 2015

nsa surveillanceMany were not surprised when NSA-contracted analyst Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the government organization, revealing massive, likely illegal domestic spying programs.

As the details came out, the government went into full damage control, and one keyword that surfaced was “metadata.” It was just metadata they were collecting without a warrant, they said, not the kind of data that would reveal anything personal about its owner. The word left the mouth of every government official who spoke on the subject, and the common belief became that it was not wiretapping going on, just mass surveillance.

Until now, when further revelations have come out of the Snowden leak, which amounted to gigabytes of unsorted evidence turned over to journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras. Although it’s been a subject of close inspection by journalists and investigators since the original leak, the depth of one secret program, in particular, XKeyscore, was not known until more recently. XKeyscore is essentially a database for spies to sort through data that has been brought in from the massive nets the government has on all domestic and international communications it can tap. Before now, it was not believed to be overly advanced in the types of information that analysts could derive from it.

Also read: 42 Years Before Edward Snowden Leak Finishes

But according to the Intercept, the program can monitor a lot more than just the traffic of all the world’s major networks. The program can store data from any stream for up to five days after it is initially transmitted. For forty-five days after that, metadata is stored and retrievable by the NSA for later use in investigations. To retain any of the data as evidence, a warrant will have to be obtained.

At least according to the program’s creators, XKeyscore can monitor such things as Skype calls and webcam feeds, in real time, as they’re happening, and the program does this by intercepting literally everything transmitted by fiber optics networks. It has been revealed that in Britain, the main connections going into the country have been forked to GCHQ for years, and a similar fork existing in the United States would probably come as no surprise.

Technology has a long history of enabling both the tyrant and the subject, the good guys and the bad. Along with unprecedented access to information and resources, Americans have met with an unprecedented environment where almost nothing they say or do will ultimately be private. Edward Snowden has taken a precarious role in history as the first to prove this was the case.

Images from Shutterstock.

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  • Meghan Nova

    Snowden has brought to light important information that deserved to be in the public domain. He recognised the NSAs surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, undemocratic and unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of privacy does not contribute to our security, it puts in danger the very liberties we are trying to protect. Edward Snowden deserves a statue!