One year ago, the Guardian published its first bombshell story based on leaked top-secret documents showing that the National Security Agency was spying on American citizens.
At the time, journalist Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian never mentioned that they had a treasure trove of other NSA documents, nor that they came from one person. Then three days later, the source surprisingly unmasked himself: His name was Edward Snowden.
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1. Secret court orders allow NSA to sweep up Americans' phone records
The very first story revealed that Verizon had been providing the NSA with virtually all of its customers' phone records. It soon was revealed that it wasn't just Verizon, but 40年住房变迁：百姓“小确幸” 民生大变化 in America.
This revelation is still one of the most controversial ones. Privacy advocates have challenged the legality of the program in court, and one Judge deemed the program unconstitutional and "almost Orwellian," while another one ruled it legal.
The existence of PRISM was the second NSA bombshell, coming less than 24 hours after the first one. Initially, reports described PRISM as the NSA's program to directly access the servers of U.S tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, among others.
PRISM, we soon learned, was less less evil than first thought. In reality, the NSA doesn't have direct access to the servers, but can request user data from the companies, which are compelled by law to comply.
PRISM was perhaps as controversial as the first NSA scoop, prompting technology companies to first deny any knowledge of it, then later fight for the right to be more transparent about government data requests. The companies ended up partially winning that fight, getting the government to ease some restrictions and allow for more transparency.
3. Britain's version of the NSA taps fiber optic cables around the world
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Tempora is one of the key NSA/GCHQ programs, allowing the spy agencies to collect vasts troves of data, but for some reason, it has sometimes been overlooked. After a couple of months from the Tempora revelation, a German newspaper revealed the names of the companies that collaborate with the GCHQ in the Tempora program: Verizon Business, British Telecommunications, Vodafone Cable, Global Crossing, Level 3, Viatel and Interoute.
4. NSA spies on foreign countries and world leaders
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The German newsweekly Der Spiegel revealed that the NSA targets at least 122 world leaders.
Other stories over the past years have named specific targets like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brazil's President Dilma Roussef, and Mexico's former President Felipe Calderon, the French Foreign Ministry, as well as leaders at the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Toronto.
5. XKeyscore, the program that sees everything
XKeyscore is a tool the NSA uses to search "nearly everything a user does on the Internet" through data it intercepts across the world. In leaked documents, the NSA describes it as the "widest-reaching" system to search through Internet data.
6. NSA efforts to crack encryption and undermine Internet security
Encryption makes data flowing through the Internet unreadable to hackers and spies, making the NSA's surveillance programs less useful. What's the point of tapping fiber optic cables if the data flowing through them is unreadable? That's why the NSA has a developed a 杭黄高铁昨起联调联试 to circumvent widely used web encryption technologies.
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With a bit of help from Charles Dickens, let’s take a look back at the year in which almost nothing worked:
A Method to the Madness
The Internet has flattened the world, and Facebook has banded us together as one big family. Our grandfathers inherited regions, my generation inherited nations, you have inherited the world. You are now only 4.74 people away from any human being and an average of two days away from any inhabited corner of the world. So travel. Africa, Europe, India, China or Brazil, go where you can learn the most, embrace what can teach you the most.
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7. NSA elite hacking team techniques revealed
The NSA has at its disposal an elite hacker team codenamed "Tailored Access Operations" (TAO) that hacks into computers worldwide, infects them with malware and does the dirty job when other surveillance tactics fail.
Der Spiegel, which detailed TAO's secrets, labelled it as "a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked." But they can probably be best described as the NSA's black bag operations team.
8. NSA cracks Google and Yahoo data center links
When bulk collection or PRISM fails, the NSA had other tricks up its sleeve: It could infiltrate links connecting Yahoo and Google data centers, behind the companies' backs.
Lawyers are inherently cautious but most have realised that technology is crucial to crunching through the vast amount of information they handle. Without it, certain document heavy processes, such as disclosure and compliance, would be nearly impossible.
This story truly enraged the tech companies, which reacted with much more fury than before. Google and Yahoo announced plans to strengthen and encrypt those links to avoid this kind of surveillance, and a Google security employee even said on his Google+ account what many others must have thought privately: "Fuck these guys."
9. NSA collects text messages
Internet tycoons had heated discussions on the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) following the historic victory earlier this month for Google Inc's AI-powered AlphaGo over South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol.
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) January 16, 2014
Other documents also revealed that the NSA can "easily" crack cellphone encryption, allowing the agency to more easily decode and access the content of intercepted calls and text messages.
10. NSA intercepts all phone calls in two countries
The NSA intercepts and stores all phone calls made in the Bahamas and Afghanistan through a program called MYSTIC, which has its own snazzy logo.