ON 5 June 2013, The Guardian revealed the first documents, culled from tens of thousands, about the United States’ and U.K.’s surveillance programs, leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. At the time, only a handful of people at The Guardian and The Washington Post had any idea how many more disclosures were to come.
Eight months later, media outlets around the world have published more than 100 revelations in over a dozen languages. We now know that the NSA has tracked private American citizens’ phone calls, emails and social connections; monitored Internet traffic in and out of the U.S.; and spied on allied countries and foreign companies alike. What we have learned so far suggests that the agency has gone from protecting national security to facilitating the United States’ political and economic advantage on the world stage.
Some of the information contained in the Snowden files is totally new. Other documents provided written proof of the existence of surveillance programs that journalists had already disclosed or confirmed serious accusations made by other whistle-blowers. Many previous stories about the long arm of government surveillance failed to break into the mainstream, but the Snowden cache changed that overnight.
“People who were paying close attention to this stuff were dismissed as conspiracy theorists until very recently,” explains Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty project at the ACLU of Massachusetts.
Given the massive amount of information being released, even devoted news junkies have felt overwhelmed. Al Jazeera’s comprehensive timeline of every Snowden revelation includes short summaries along with links to the original articles, but overload is inevitable. Highlighting the key details and making sense of the revelations’ global impact is no small feat.