In June 2013, The Guardian broke the first story on the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The story revealed that the NSA was gathering the phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the United States. Since June, there has been a deluge of revelations as more documents have been released to the public, showing that the NSA is also gathering massive amounts of user data from companies like Google and Facebook, gaining access to encrypted messages, identifying drone targets, and spying on foreign leaders.
The information from the Snowden documents has in turn shocked and enraged people around the world, motivating politicians and communities to take action. As the full scope of NSA surveillance is revealed, it is challenging to fully comprehend the meaning of the documents and the larger significance they hold for the political process and everyday life.
To solve this problem, The Guardian released a multi-media resource called NSA Files Decoded: What the revelations mean for you. NSA Files Decoded combines explanations of the documents, infographics, and video interviews with key players like Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and Lavabit founder Ladar Levison.
The site includes visualizations of how encryption works and the legal basis for NSA surveillance, which helps explain the process of gathering data and the political system that enables it. The interviews with experts, both inside and outside of the government, underscore the impact NSA surveillance has on our lives and the extent to which the NSA's actions violate rights and threaten constitutional democracy. Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU explains,
Just think to yourself about the sensitivity of some of the communications you engage in, not because you're planning to do anything nefarious, but because you're an ordinary human being and you have relationships, intimate relationships, with people. Or you're calling your doctor, or you're calling your lawyer, or you're calling, who knows, a substance abuse agency. And those kinds of conversation are private and confidential and without some good reason, the government shouldn't be listening to them.
Reform efforts aimed at reigning in the NSA's power are already underway in the form of lawsuits and legislation. Senator Rob Wyden (D-OR), one of the strongest proponents of substantive reform, reminds us, "What's key to watch for in the debate about the NSA is whether the reforms are cosmetic or whether they're real ones that are going to make a difference... At the end of the day, the reforms have to be real here." In order for those changes to be realized, we need an informed, engaged public that understands these issues and can demand that their representatives take action. Take a look at The Guardian's resource and decide for yourself whether you can live with the status quo or if you're going to speak up.