Whistleblowing. A Thankless Job

famous whistleblower, edward snowden

Americans are often patriotic to a fault, willing to give their blood, sweat, and money for their country. One could confidently assume they would have accepted these measures had they been aware of them. The operative words here are: had they known. Because some of what I’ve just described occurred in secret, and it was only the tip of the iceberg. If it weren’t for one now famous whistleblower, we would have remained in the dark.

Snowden Detonates the Bomb of the Decade

If you are too young to remember Edward Snowden, allow me to introduce the man who valiantly gave his life to expose the NSA for its less-than-ethical practices since the American public was rattled by the 9/11 tragedy. Snowden, speaking to The Guardian at the time, said, “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Back in 2013, Snowden was a computer intelligence consultant for the National Security Agency (NSA). He earned his famous whistleblower status when he leaked classified documents exposing deeply secretive global surveillance programs. The NSA had partnered with British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand intelligence agencies to mass collect electronic communications data. These agencies are collectively known as the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, a name that nods to their ‘20/20 eyesight’ – or rather, their 360-degree vision.

Two memorable programs from this era are PRISM and XKeyscore. PRISM involved the NSA accessing user data with the cooperation of major Big Tech companies, amongst others, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook (now branded as Meta), YouTube, Skype, and Apple. Unlike the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP), PRISM was authorized by the FISA Court. It targeted “non-United States persons who are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.”

Xkeyscore, on the other hand, was a warrantless operation. It was essentially a world-class computer system, a tool for analysts to sift through and dissect internet data collected in real time. XKeyscore allowed analysts to search for data pertaining to individual people, broader topics, locations, or activities.

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