The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Snowden

Episode 47 – PRISM

by Rishabh Gharekhan

Newsstand with Wired magazine covers featuring Edward SnowdenThis podcast explains the story of Edward Snowden and the PRISM program. In 2013, Snowden leaked classified government secrets exposing the National Security Agency’s widespread mass surveillance programs. PRISM was one of these. Using discreet legal pathways, the NSA was tapping directly into the servers of American companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft. Snowden’s revelations shocked the American public due to the violations of privacy. The exposure of this program led to quick damage control. However, the damage had already been done which has continued to raise questions over how safe our data is online.

Works Cited:

Fitzpatrick, A. (2013, June 7). NSA Leak: Internet Giants Let Government Tap Your Data. Mashable.

Greenwald, G., & MacAskill, E. (2017, December 29). NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others. The Guardian.

Greenwald, G., MacAskill, E., & Poitras, L. (2021, March 24). Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations. The Guardian.

Lee, T. (2013, June 6). How Congress unknowingly legalized PRISM in 2007. The Washington Post.

Seifert, D. (2013, June 7). Secret program gives NSA, FBI backdoor access to Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft data. The Verge.

Snowden Timeline. (2019, January 9). Government Accountability Project.

West, A. (2013, July 9). 17 disturbing things Snowden has taught us (so far). The World from PRX.

Whittaker, Z. (2013, June 8). PRISM: Here’s how the NSA wiretapped the Internet. ZDNet.



Orange Free Sounds:

  • Chillout Downtempo Music Loop
  • Mysterious Synth Pad
  • Tremolo Electric Guitar Music Loop
  • Symbiosis Ambient Lounge


  • Enigmatic

Fesliyan Studios:

  • Land of Fantasy

Obama Clip:

News Clip (June 6, 2013 – 100 Seconds of News):

Further Reading:

Image: Edward Snowden,” Mike Mozart, Flickr CC BY

Privacy Makes Sense

I have never needed much persuading when it came to believing in the privacy argument, as it actually makes a lot of sense. However, I can see how someone could be tempted to be in favor of surveillance if they did not understand the meaning of privacy. As Snowden has noted several times throughout his journey, privacy is not necessarily about hiding information, but about the ability to protect it if necessary. For this reason, the right to privacy encompasses many of our rights that we have today. For instance the freedom of speech. Most people would not argue against the First Amendment even though it has similar properties. As snowden remarks, “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say” (Snowden.) Freedom of speech is wanted twenty-four seven, even when we do not appear to need it. The argument that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is additionally problematic for a different reason. Today both regular citizens and politicians use this phrase alike, unaware of its background. Snowden reminds us that this phrase was common in Nazi propaganda, and is being missuesd today. 

The uses of surveillance in the past have been mediocre at best. Many times, surveillance has been abused, and used to take down minority groups. An example of this could be the wiretapping of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beginning in 1963, and finally ending after his death. The FBI at this time closely surveilled Dr. King, hopping to reveal a communist background. When evidence of this did not arise, they turned petty, and revelaed sensitive information on his sex life. Clearly, surveillance at this time did not halt terrorism, if anything it hindered the civil rights moevemnt.


What We Learned from Snowden

  1. With a top-secret court order, the NSA collected the telephone records from millions of Verizon customers. — June 6, 2013
  2. The NSA accessed and collected data through back doors into US internet companies such as Google and Facebook with a program called Prism. — June 7, 2013
  3. Britain’s GCHQ tapped fiber-optic cables to collect and store global email messages, Facebook posts, internet histories, and calls, and then shares the data with the NSA. — June 21, 2013
  4. Using a program called Fairview, the NSA intercepted internet and phone-call data of Brazilian citizens. — July 6, 2013
  5. NSA analysts, using the XKeyscore program, could search through enormous databases of emails, online chats, and browsing histories of targets. — July 31, 2013
  6. Seven of the world’s leading telecommunications companies provided GCHQ with secret, unlimited access to their network of undersea cables. — August 2, 2013
  7. The NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, according to an internal audit. — August 15, 2013
  8. The NSA had the ability to access user data for most major smartphones on the market, including Apple iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Google Android phones. — September 7, 2013
  9. The NSA used metadata augmented with other data from public, commercial, and other sources to create sophisticated graphs that map Americans’ social connections. — September 28, 2013
  10. The NSA stored a massive amount of internet metadata from internet users, regardless of whether they are being targeted, for up to one year in a database called Marina. — September 30, 2013
  11. The NSA and GCHQ worked together to compromise the anonymous web-browsing Tor network. — October 4, 2013
  12. The NSA tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. — October 23, 2013

And much more:

Border Dispute

Here’s the @snowden tweet (well, retweet) that caught my eye:

I mentioned this after our Citizenfour screening last night: The laws governing search and seizure at US borders aren’t the same as the laws that apply within the country. Specifically, searches and seizures at borders don’t require warrants. The tweet above references a recent course case that pushes back on this policy. The judge in the case ruled that the US government should not have seized (and searched) a laptop belonging to a South Korean businessman while he traveled through an LA airport, since they didn’t have a warrant.

Given all the time Snowden spent between borders in a Moscow airport in 2013, perhaps he has a personal interest in this story, in addition to a policy interest.

Violating Rights or Protecting the Country?

Here’s the tweet we found:

Here’s what we think:

The government, which is governed by the Constitution, does not have the right to secretly violate that document. The Constitution was set up to restrain the expansion of power and protect the rights of US citizens. While times of war have created circumstances in which adaptations or violations have been justified, the people were made aware of these alterations, and were given a voice in the proceedings. For example, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were quickly repealed, due to the immediate outcry from the citizenry. As Snowden expressed in the documentary Citizenfour, the population should be made aware of the government’s actions regarding their rights, especially where these actions potentially violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

Collaborator: Emily Struttmann


While the President could pardon Snowden, doing so would insinuate that the Espionage Act and other, similar policies are irrelevant in a modern context. It would also diminish the government’s credibility in the eyes of the American public, because granting Snowden a pardon would essentially equate to admitting that everything the government has been saying about security and the power of their institutions is untrue.

Collaborators: Felix and Suzy

Hero or Traitor? Or neither? #catlords

Here’s a tweet:

This tweet reveals Snowden’s focus on the information itself as opposed to his role in releasing the information. He doesn’t want to influence how people interpret the revealed documents. He neither views himself as a hero nor traitor; he just felt that it was his duty as a human being to expose the extreme powers of the NSA.

-Sara and Julia

“Literally the Point of Encryption”

Through his sass, Snowden points out that if a government can access encrypted messages, then it isn’t really encrypted at all. It’s the same idea as cell phone companies providing a “back door” for the government: if the government can get through the back door, so can anyone. There is no “gray area” with encryption; it either works or it doesn’t.

-Abbey, Ross, & Parker


Snowden comments on the mass data breach in prison phone calls.

An anonymous hacker leaked material that implicates Securus in the violation of constitutional rights of inmates. Over 70 million conversations, some of which were between inmates and lawyers, were collected by Securus, the company which is in charge of phone services in prisons and jails. This proves that Securus could possibly be violating client-attorney privilege.

This parallels Snowden’s actions with the NSA as an individual is exposing a governmental flaw that could be infringing upon rights and breaching citizens’ security. He undoubtedly supports this #hactivism as it reveals otherwise unknown and unattainable information to the public eye. This leaves us asking the question – security or privacy?

Written by: CN, CG

Protection of Privacy

Citizen Four opened my eyes to the many different ways the government invades privacy in order to protect its citizens. The government uses many devices to spy on its citizens, including location tracking and following people online with tracking cookies. This invasion of privacy can easily be avoided by any citizen. This is the topic of my paper. Now that I have watched citizen four, I plan on taking a slightly different approach to my paper. One can avoid tracking cookies to prevent themselves from being tracked by businesses and even the government itself.

Businesses today can use search history information in order to price discriminate online. Many companies, most famously airlines, but also amazon and other online shopping companies can use your history in order to charge you a higher price. This is the original take on my paper. However, after watching citizen four, I realized that the government can use the exact same type of procedure to spy on you directly. For example, if you commonly search the word “bomb,” you are very likely to be targeted by the government as a potential terrorist simply because of your search history. Simple tracking cookies can result in big accusations from the government.

Simply put, Edward Snowden revealed a lot about the way the government tracks its citizens. This tracking can also be easily avoided by simply deleting one’s cookies. In this form and fashion high school students can both avoid price discrimination and having their privacy invaded by the government of the United States.

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