This is why you don’t use contracted labor on top secret projects…
Starting in June and continuing through November of 2013 former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began supplying The Guardian and The Washington Post classified NSA documents outlining details of the US government’s global surveillance operations as well as its international partners including, but not limited to, The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, AOL, Yahoo, and Facebook. The documents show this partnership dating as far back as 2007. Week after week netizens’ heads exploded as seemingly impossible accusations of the global information siphon became validated by none other than the chief of the NSA himself. It seemed impossible. Something out of a William Gibson novel perhaps, but certainly not a real event of our current Information Age existence. Yet… There is was. Bought and paid for with the tax dollars of those dwelling in The Land of the Free. XKeyscore, Tempora, and, of course, PRISIM. All of it laid bare. Right down to the internal PowerPoint presentation.
It was one thing to half-joke about the government tracking your every move and quite another to have said government reply to accusations with “Yeah, we did that. Lulz.”
Well, at least The Man came clean. The afore mentioned tech companies, global stewards of our online lives, answerable to no one other than their shareholders, just kept on denying any involvement. Everything but the canceled check posted online, but they just keep swearing they have no idea what we were talking about. The reason would come from an unexpected source: Yahoo. Yahoo sued the NSA in September to overturn a federal gag order stating "Yahoo! has been unable to engage fully in the debate about whether the government has properly used its powers, because the government has placed a prior restraint on Yahoo!'s speech.” Microsoft and Google would join the suit. The companies are seeking (Surprise!) monetary compensation for damage done to their reputation. Too little, too late, boys.
In December of 2013, Edward Snowden declared “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission's already accomplished. I already won. … All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.” Snowden is currently considered a fugitive and wanted by the United States for espionage and theft of government property. He has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. He has dismissed allegations that he’s made any deals with the countries that have sheltered him stating, “"If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public."
The future of the NSA’s spying program is uncertain. Congressional hearings have already begun. Courts have found both for and against the NSA’s appropriation of Verizon’s metadata detailing nearly every phone made in the United States. The tech giants that helped build the NSA’s global surveillance system now call for changes to US surveillance practices arguing that current operations undermine our freedom.
While the NSA will undoubtedly continue operating past this controversy, it is highly unlikely that they will enjoy the same level of autonomy or lack of oversight in the near future. It’s not just the agents of the NSA that face change in light of the recent revelations, of course, but all of us. Our online childhood is over. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Tomorrow we reveal our pick for the fourth biggest tech turkey from last year. See what happens when arrogance meets the worst marketing department in the western world.