In 3 weeks, Snowden’s revelations have roiled the globe

A banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, is displayed at Central, Hong Kong's business district
A banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, is displayed at Central, Hong Kong's business district AP

Edward Snowden, the former defense-contractor-turned-classified-document-leaker, has received most attention in the United States for revealing wide-ranging government snooping into phone and Internet records. But the activities Snowden has exposed are not limited to inside the United States. His leaks also have made waves in Hong Kong, China and Great Britain. Here’s a look at what he’s alleged.

Verizon customer metadata

On June 5, The Guardian newspaper revealed a top-secret order issued in April by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court directing cellphone carrier Verizon to turn over millions of customers’ cellphone records to the National Security Agency on a daily basis until July 19, 2013. This metadata, while not containing actual content of calls, includes time and duration of calls along with numbers dialed.

PRISM Internet surveillance program

The Guardian and The Washington Post reveal June 6 a set of government PowerPoint slides that describe PRISM, a top-secret National Security Agency program that allows data collection from Internet giants Apple, Google and Facebook, among others. The slides show that collected data can include email, voice and video chats, and social networking details, and can also include “special requests” for additional information. The documents say that the data sweeps are run with cooperation from Internet companies, but both Google and Apple deny having knowledge of the PRISM program.

Boundless Informant analytics tool

On June 8, The Guardian, working with another document leaked by Snowden, reveals an NSA program called Boundless Informant, an analytics tool that can be used to analyze data on “a country-to-country, program-to-program” basis. By aggregating the enormous amount of data collected through the previously revealed programs, the Boundless Informant program reportedly stores surveillance information that the government previously said it didn’t track. The documents also suggest that U.S. surveillance efforts could extend outside national borders.

NSA hacking of Chinese cellphone companies

On June 12, the South China Morning Post quoted Snowden as saying that the NSA has been hacking into Chinese cellphone companies “to steal your SMS data.” Claiming to have documentary proof, Snowden said that the NSA has snooped on targets both in Hong Kong and mainland China. Akin to the information NSA collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order in the United States, Snowden said that the surveillance programs allowed for the mass collection of user and text message information from Chinese cellphones.

British spying on diplomats at 2009 G20 Summit

On June 17, The Guardian reports that documents leaked by Snowden reveal that the British spy agency GCHQ “intercepted foreign politicians’ communications” at the 2009 London G20 summit with cooperation from the NSA. According to The Guardian, GCHQ breached security walls on delegates’ laptops and Blackberries to access emails and phone calls during the conference, and targeted South African, Turkish and Russian officials. Although other snooping programs have been justified as a means to crack down on international terrorism, The Guardian reports that the G20 summit spying “appears to have been organized for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings.”

FISA allows NSA to analyze inadvertently collected data

On June 20, The Guardian reported that top-secret documents spell out how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the NSA to analyze information that is mistakenly collected in data sweeps, suggesting that warrants are not always necessary to access the content of phone conversations and emails of U.S. citizens. In addition, the documents indicate that the U.S. government has discretion when it comes to determining if a targeted individual is inside the United States or outside its borders, which would allow for greater liberties in tracking. The reports run contrary to congressional testimony from NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, who told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that any data mistakenly collected through NSA surveillance is immediately destroyed.

Fiber optic cables eavesdropping

On June 21, The Guardian reports that documents show a wide-ranging effort by Britain’s GCHQ to collect Internet and phone data from worldwide fiber optic cables. The British agency shares the information with the NSA, the paper reports. The report also points to a GCHQ program called “Tempora,” which allows mass amounts of data to be stored and analyzed. British Foreign Secretary William Hague defended the surveillance program and insisted that the GCHQ is well within the law and held accountable by democratic oversights. However, The Guardian reported that unnamed sources close to the organization said that their oversight is far less than that of the NSA.

Snowden says NSA has hacked Chinese computers

On June 23, The South China Morning Post reports that Snowden’s leaks reveal attempts to hack into computers at China’s Tsinghua University, one of the country’s premier research universities. Snowden, the Post reports, says that the NSA targeted Tsinghua’s servers as recently as January. The reports also suggest that the NSA has hacked into computers at the Hong Kong-based submarine fiber optic cable network, Pacnet.

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