The revelations to the Guardian of the NSA’s secret court orders to siphon metadata from the majority of Americans’ cell phone conversations launched wide-ranging concern over the program. That only increased with the disclosure of further programs from the agency — with codenames like PRISM and BLARNEY — that allow access to the content of information sent across some of the Internet’s most popular platforms. The response from privacy advocates across the political spectrum has been condemnation of the programs’ secrecy and overarching intrusiveness on the part of the federal government.
However, that focus on the potential violations of civil liberties is being undercut the more former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveals. The shift began with the news that President Obama had signed off on a directive to begin planning for how the United States could bring to bear offensive capabilities in cyberspace and against whom. A summary of the directive had been made public months earlier, but the directive itself had remained classified and secret until it was first reported in the Guardian. While the previous leaks had been related to the public’s right to know about what actions the government was taking against U.S. citizens, the cyberwar document could not be considered the same.
Likewise, the next scoop featured what was touted as an all-seeing system through which the NSA could easily sort through where the communications data it collects came from — including the United States. Its existence has caused no small amount of trouble for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who had previously indicated to Congress that the NSA did not collect this type of information from Americans without a warrant. “Not wittingly, there are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly,” Clapper told Congress at the time. What the program — known as Boundless Informant — revealed, however, went beyond the information collected on U.S. citizens, instead also detailing the NSA’s collection work from networks in Iran, India, and Pakistan.