Ten years ago, a young government employee named Edward Snowden shook the world with his revelations on mass surveillance by the United States intelligence agencies. Snowden shared numerous classified documents confirming that the NSA was conducting widespread spying on a global scale. Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras worked with Snowden to reveal how the NSA was spying on people worldwide, including their online communication, Internet activities, and telephone calls.
In June 2013, an article in the Guardian reported that the NSA was collecting data on telephone calls from millions of US residents. A secret court ordered the telecommunications company Verizon to hand over detailed connection and location information on all calls made within the United States and between the United States and foreign countries to the NSA. The next day, the Washington Post revealed the Prism eavesdropping program through which the NSA and the FBI accessed customer data of Internet companies like Apple, AOL, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, or Skype. This allowed them to gain access to videos, pictures, e-mails, and other sensitive information, creating extensive user profiles.
Snowden revealed himself as the source of the revelations on June 9, 2013. In a video interview, he described the NSA’s spying skills as much greater than even paranoid natures would have previously suspected. He stated that any authorized secret service employee could get “e-mails, passwords, call data, credit card information” of anyone they were looking for. According to Snowden, the vast majority of online activities of networked humanity are open to the agents. It later emerged that the NSA was even recording internal data traffic between the data centers of online giants like Google and Yahoo.
The fact that the NSA had been running a massive eavesdropping program since the attacks of September 11, 2001, was already an open secret in the years leading up to Snowden’s revelations. Communications engineer Mark Klein publicized the AT&T NSA wiretapping affair in 2006. In the years that followed, former secret service agents William Binney, Thomas Drake, and Russel Tice confirmed these reports. Reports about the Echelon eavesdropping system of the Five Eyes countries in the 1990s caused a stir, especially in Europe.
In conclusion, Edward Snowden’s revelations on mass surveillance by the NSA on a global scale shocked the world ten years ago. Despite being an open secret in the years leading up to Snowden’s revelations, the extent of the spying was much greater than most people thought possible. Snowden’s whistleblowing helped to create new awareness of privacy concerns in the digital age.