At first it was National Security Agency (NSA) accessing metadata from phones. Then it was PRISM, where the NSA and Federal Bureau of Investigation had access to the servers of nine major tech companies. Now, it's Boundless Informant.
Boundless Informant is a data mining tool which maps the amount of computer and telephone metadata.
This metadata is organized and indexed in a way which allows agents to call up the details - though, apparently, not the contents - of collected information by type, according to The Guardian, which first broke the news of Boundless Informant. That includes phone calls, text messages, emails, and a variety of other information associated with digital communications.
Boundless Informant also maps out these acquired pieces of information by country. The program then grades each country by the amount it's being watched by U.S. cybersecurity officials. The program uses a color gradient - green meaning less through yellow to red for more - for its rating. The U.S. appears to be orange, suggesting a moderate amount of culled information. It's unknown if, or how much, of that information belongs to U.S. citizens.
What is clear, however, is a system which has collected nearly 3 billion pieces of information from U.S.-based computer systems in a 30 day period. Worldwide, the system indexes roughly 100 billion pieces of information.
The country under the most NSA scrutiny is Iran, which is widely suspected of attempting to build a nuclear bomb. The NSA apparently hold 14 billion categorized data points. U.S. ally Pakistan is the second most surveilled with 13.5 billion pieces of information collected.
All of this, of course, comes on the tail end of two other national security scandals - one where it was discovered that the government collects metadata on cell phone users, and the other, PRISM, which taps directly into the servers of nine major U.S. tech companies like Google and Microsoft.
U.S. politicians have repeatedly denied that the NSA and other intelligence agencies have spied on U.S. citizens, and say programs like PRISM has helped to save U.S. lives. No agency has offered evidence of thwarted attacks based solely off of PRISM or Boundless Intelligence information. Defenders of the program claimed that PRISM may have helped to stop planned attacks on New York City subways in 2009, but as Buzzfeed reports, arrests and police work played a larger role than data mining.
The leaks have come from one person, Edward Snowden, 29, of Hawaii. Snowden, who has backgrounds with both the CIA and the NSA, says he believes these programs collect too much information with too little oversight. He said he held off from revealing this information, thinking that President Barack Obama would roll the programs back. Instead, the programs grew.
Snowden is currently taking refuge in Hong Kong, and said that if he is arrested and extradited, he doesn't expect to ever see home again.