by Leigh Beadon

Filed Under:
history, look back

This Week In Techdirt History: August 19th - 25th

from the special-focus dept

Five Years Ago

Once in a while, when evens really heat up in a given week, we skip the five/ten/fifteen-year retrospective and focus in on the big events — and this is one of those times, with the NSA spying debacle elevating to another level this week in 2013.

Firstly, hings heated up on the other side of the Atlantic, with the UK government detaining David Miranda and seizing all his electronics and telling him he'd go to jail if he didn't turn over his passwords in a blatant act of intimidation. While the UK Home office claimed the detention was fully justified, a US official told Reuters that it was done to send a message. That admission was buried in a report about another disturbing action by the UK: forcing The Guardian to destroy hard drives with info from Snowden — an order that came directly from the Prime Minister. On top of all that, a new and questionable revelation in The Independent prompted Edward Snowden to accuse the UK government of leaking additional documents itself to make him look bad.

Back in the US, we were getting a closer look at the loopholes that allowed the NSA to withhold information from Congress, and a glimpse of the agency culture that encouraged deception. Defenders threw up their hands and claimed "we didn't mean it", and got some help from the guy who wrote legal memos defending the CIA torture program. Then the agency revealed that it performs a staggering 20-million database queries per month. It seemed that if some of these more serious leaks had come out a bit earlier, a bill to defund the NSA may have stood more of a chance, while a new bill was introduced to make the agency pay for every abuse of power.

And then things continued to escalate. A new leak showed that the NSA truly could spy on almost anything and set its own filters. The EFF's success in getting a key FISA court ruling declassified revealed that the NSA repeatedly lied to the court, too. Documents showed that a program continued for three years after it was declared unconstitutional, right after tech companies (who the NSA was paying for their help) got immunity in warrantless wiretapping cases. And during the 2002 Olympics, the NSA and FBI spied on every single email in Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, the US still couldn't even figure out what exactly Snowden took, but it could put together a surveillance review board packed with Washington insiders and NSA sympathizers. By the end of the week, the agency was fumbling to accuse the Wall Street Journal of misleading the public, but then finally (buried on a Friday night in the hopes of avoiding coverage) admitted that yes, there had been a lot of intentional abuses of the system (in contrast to the many denials of this idea).

And the circus wasn't over yet — tune in next week...

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