According to secret documents shared by Snowden, the Obama administration had allowed for two years the continuation of an NSA data collection program started during President George W. Bush's first mandate in 2001.
The program - dubbed "Stellar Wind" - included the collection of records of email and Internet use and metadata for both foreign and American citizens, and was approved again every three months by the FISA court.
At first, the NSA was given permission to collect the metadata for communications that involved "at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States," but later the collection for communications involving U.S. persons was also sanctioned.
The program was discontinued in 2011 "for operational and resource reasons", but according to The Guardian and the additional documents its reporters had the opportunity to peruse, a program mimicking the starting version of "Stellar Wind" was launched again by the NSA at the end of last year.
It is interesting to note that the newly nominated future FBI Director James Comey was the one who brought about the temporary suspension of the Stellar Wind program in 2004. As Acting Attorney General for the Bush administration, he refused to sign off on its legality. Nevertheless, the program was resumed two months later, when it was put under the authority of the FISA court.
The PRISM revelations, as much as they are shocking, are nothing to these latest ones.
"The calls you make can reveal a lot, but now that so much of our lives are mediated by the internet, your IP logs are really a real-time map of your brain: what are you reading about, what are you curious about, what personal ad are you responding to (with a dedicated email linked to that specific ad), what online discussions are you participating in, and how often?" pointed out Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute.
This latest leak also vindicated retired AT&T communications technician Mark Klein who claimed in 2006 that the government was vacuuming data passing through internet providers' networks from secret rooms in AT&T’s offices around the U.S.
In the meantime, an op-ed in the NYT written by Jennifer Stisa Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, and Christopher Sprigman, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, says out loud that the phone and email metadata capturing programs by the hands of the NSA are "criminal".
"We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy," they wrote after going step-by-step through the laws and reasonings (mis)used by the government to set them up and keep them secret.