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The Snowballing NSA

Edward Snowden's outing of the PRISM initiative and the depths of its surveillance caused an immediate outcry around the world.

© BOBBY YIP/Reuters/Corbis

Admire him or despise him, Edward Snowden exposed the National Security Agency as more intrusive and more aggressive than anyone suspected. The aftershocks from our No. 1 whistleblower are still happening, and will continue to reverberate for years to come.

Stop us if you've heard this one before.

Snowden was an NSA contractor who leaked information about PRISM (ECHELON, anyone?), a sophisticated electronic surveillance system that launched in 2007. PRISM was initially intended to help analysts capture information about plots against the United States. But Snowden leaked documents showing that the program collected mind-blowing amounts of data and amounted to spying on American citizens.

Snowden's revelations damaged the Obama administration's image at home and abroad. PRISM was roundly condemned by both America's enemies and allies, and the American public and legislators reacted with outrage.

Only history will be able to judge whether Snowden is a patriot or traitor, but like our other whistleblowers, he accomplished an amazing feat -- he exposed tightly held secrets to the wider world. It's up to the rest of us to make the best use of those revelations.

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