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Among this year's NSA revelations: "The NSA and its partners exploit mobile apps, such as the popular Angry Birds game, to access users’ private information such as location, home address, gender, and more." (Photo: TechStage/flickr/cc)

What We Learned About NSA Spying in 2014—And What We're Fighting to Expose in 2015

After a banner year for shedding light on the NSA’s secret surveillance programs in 2013, the pace of disclosures in 2014—both from whistleblowers and through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits—slowed significantly.

But that’s not because all the secrets of NSA surveillance have been revealed.

In fact, some of the most significant information about the NSA’s surveillance programs still remain secret. Despite one of the most significant leaks in American history and despite a promise to declassify as much information as possible about the programs, nearly two years later the government still refuses to provide the public with the information it needs. For example, government officials still have not answered a simple, yet vitally important, question: what type of information does the NSA collect about millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans (or the citizens of any other country, for that matter)? And the government still refuses to release some of the most significant decisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—the secret court tasked with monitoring the government’s surveillance programs.

Despite the slowdown, in 2014, we learned still more about the NSA’s surveillance programs than we knew before. We learned that:

  • Through the NSA’s Mystic program, the agency records every single cell phone conversation in the Bahamas and Afghanistan, storing those conversations for up to 30 days.
  • The NSA specifically targets sys admins—the people who are often charged with keeping networks safe and secure.
  • The NSA and its partners exploits mobile apps, such as the popular Angry Birds game, to access users’ private information such as location, home address, gender, and more.
  • The NSA sought to develop capabilities to infect millions of computers with malware implants as part of its TURBINE program.
  • The NSA’s Dishfire operation collects 200 million text messages daily from users around the globe.
  • The NSA “intercepts ‘millions of images per day’ — including about 55,000 ‘facial recognition quality images’” and processes them with powerful facial recognition software.
  • The NSA spies on civic leaders and model citizens—The Intercept put a face to NSA spying, publishing a profile of five American Muslim leaders who have been targeted for surveillance. They including an attorney, two professors, a former member of the Bush administration, and the founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Despite all this additional information, too much still remains secret.

But there’s reason to hope for 2015. For one, in response to an EFF FOIA lawsuit, a federal court has ordered the government to release some of the remaining, significant, and still-secret FISC opinions in the early part of 2015. We also launched a campaign to reform Executive Order 12333, and, as part of that campaign, we’re urging the government to come clean about the types of information in collects on millions of people around the world. Whether it's in federal court or the court of public opinion, in 2015, we’ll keep fighting for the public’s right to know.

This article is part of EFF's Year In Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2014.

Nadia Kayyali

Nadia Kayyali is a member of the activism team at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Mark Rumold

Mark Rumold

Mark Rumold is a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, working primarily on privacy, surveillance, government secrecy, and national security issues.

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