While I think the outrage at the NSA's snooping is more than just a little late (most of the broad strokes of the NSA's signals intelligence programs were public over four years ago) it's fascinating how new details keep emerging most notably from UK's The Guardian newspaper, the paper that Edward Snowden leaked the NSA documents to in the first place.
One of the most interesting of these new details is a system the NSA apparently calls "XKeyscore" and its revelation supports one of Snowden's claims that most people found hard to believe:
In fact, US officials denied Snowden's claim and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, actually said: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
Unfortunately for Rogers and the other US security apparatchiks it turns out that Snowden wasn't being self-aggrandizing or lying. The Guardian has just published a new piece that details the XKeyscore program which, apparently, pretty much does what Snowden claims he could do.
The purpose of XKeyscore is to allow analysts to search the metadata as well as the content of emails and other internet activity, such as browser history, even when there is no known email account (a "selector" in NSA parlance) associated with the individual being targeted.
Analysts can also search by name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted or the type of browser used.
Another revelation is:
... the program "searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents", including the "To, From, CC, BCC lines" and the 'Contact Us' pages on websites".
To search for emails, an analyst using XKS enters the individual's email address into a simple online search form, along with the "justification" for the search and the time period for which the emails are sought.
Now for this to be true it means that the NSA reaches far deeper into the Internet and stores far more data than than they or anyone in the government has been willing to admit.
The consequences of these new revelations have yet to play out but it shows that the NSA is seriously out of control and has been for quite some time. Even if Snowden hadn't spilled the beans the scope of NSA surveillance is so great and so contentious that it would have eventually been revealed by someone.
But what's really shameful is that none of our elected representatives who are on the inside of the national security apparatus such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D. Or.) who obviously wanted to reveal it or any of the rest of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and particularly the president who has to have known about the NSA's activities in detail had the guts or the integrity to speak up against what is, without doubt, not just unconstitutional and illegal but also profoundly unethical.
I think Snowden has done us a great service but I doubt whether the US will ever thank him.