Stories Of The Decade: Edward Snowden And Mass Surveillance At the start of this decade, Americans were still discovering the wonders of their electronic devices. Few thought about how governments might monitor them on those devices. Then came Edward Snowden.
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Stories Of The Decade: Edward Snowden And Mass Surveillance

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Stories Of The Decade: Edward Snowden And Mass Surveillance

Stories Of The Decade: Edward Snowden And Mass Surveillance

Stories Of The Decade: Edward Snowden And Mass Surveillance

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/787891267/788117388" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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At the start of this decade, Americans were still discovering the wonders of their electronic devices. Few thought about how governments might monitor them on those devices. Then came Edward Snowden.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A decade ago, we were still exploring the technological wonders of our cellphones and other electronic devices. We probably weren't thinking about how governments might monitor us on these very devices. Then this happened in 2013.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The man who leaked classified U.S. surveillance information has come forward.

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EDWARD SNOWDEN: My name is Ed Snowden. I'm 29 years old. I work as an infrastructure analyst for NSA.

MARTIN: As this decade winds down, we're looking back at some of the most important stories of the past 10 years. NPR's Greg Myre has our story on what has and has not changed since Snowden's revelations.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Edward Snowden's family traces its role in national security to relatives who fought in the Revolutionary War. Snowden assumed he'd be engaged in similar work as well. But as a contractor for the National Security Agency working at an underground facility in Hawaii, he witnessed the mass collection of electronic data on American citizens, and he thought it was wrong. Here's what he told NPR this past September.

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SNOWDEN: We had stopped watching specific terrorists, and we had started watching everyone just in case they became a terrorist. And this was not something that affected just people far away in places like Indonesia. This is affecting Americans.

MYRE: Snowden copied files of the NSA's top-secret surveillance programs and fled - first to Hong Kong, where he provided details to several Western journalists. One was Glenn Greenwald, speaking here to NPR in 2013.

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GLENN GREENWALD: Because he feels like he did the right thing, he doesn't want to hide in shame or try and evade public detection. He wants there to be a debate triggered around the policies that are very consequential and yet very secret - or at least were secret until he helped begin to expose them.

MYRE: However, many people in the national security community then and now regard Snowden as a traitor. Former CIA Director James Woolsey spoke with Fox News in 2013.

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JAMES WOOLSEY: When you make a decision - and Snowden did - that you're going to take the place of the president and the Congress, you are undertaking an action that could very well get people killed. And I suppose Snowden either doesn't care or just doesn't think about it. I don't know.

MYRE: When Snowden felt he was about to be detained in Hong Kong, he flew to Russia. His final destination was Ecuador, but the U.S. government cancelled his passport and charged him with violating the Espionage Act. He's been stranded in Russia ever since. Still, Snowden has provoked a fierce debate over government surveillance, personal privacy and the power and perils of technology.

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SNOWDEN: In the years that have passed, we have seen the laws changed. We have seen the programs change.

MYRE: In 2015, Congress rewrote the law that allowed the NSA to scoop up everyone's records. The USA Freedom Act now prohibits the bulk collection of phone calls by American citizens. Here's President Obama shortly before he signed it into law.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The act also includes other changes to our surveillance laws, including more transparency to help build confidence among the American people that your privacy and civil liberties are being protected.

MYRE: There's been another big shift as well. Ordinary citizens now know how governments and private companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google collect personal data. This in turn has led to a much wider use of encryption. Snowden says 2016 marked the first year that a majority of Internet traffic was encrypted, a trend that continues.

There's no sign that Snowden's case will be resolved anytime soon. He still faces criminal charges in the U.S. Here's how then-candidate Donald Trump describes Snowden in a 2015 interview with CNN.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think he's a total traitor, and I would deal with him harshly. And if I were president, Putin would give him over. I would get along with Putin. I've dealt with Russia.

MYRE: Snowden's critics often attack him for living in Russia. He responds by saying his attempts to move to other countries have been thwarted by the U.S. government.

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SNOWDEN: It is not my choice to be in Russia. I'm constantly criticizing the Russian government's policy, the Russian government's human rights record - even the Russian president by name.

MYRE: From his Moscow apartment, Snowden gives interviews around the world. He doesn't get out much, he says, though he's become more social since his longtime American girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, moved to Russia three years ago. They've since married.

Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

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