A Canadian team has created a searchable database of all the publicly released classified documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in hopes it'll help citizens better understand the complex files trickling out around the world.
The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Politics of Surveillance Project at University of Toronto's faculty of information revealed the archive on Wednesday before hosting a live Q&A with Snowden, the U.S. whistleblower and subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour.
"What we're hoping this database can do is start to piece together the bigger picture," said Laura Tribe, CJFE's national and digital programs lead.
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The Snowden Archive is particularly important here in Canada, says Tribe, where citizens have learned only bits and pieces about the Communications Security Establishment, their electronic eavesdropping equivalent of the NSA, from the U.S. leak.
"Seeing things like the stories coming out of the U.S., a lot of the time it's easy for us to think it's not us," says Tribe. "These tools and technologies exist and they're being used. ...Until we have some transparency about what is happening and how these processes work in Canada, we can't be certain that they're not happening here."
The project began last summer after a recent graduate of University of Toronto's school of information came up with the idea, frustrated at the scattered document releases around the world and the difficulty of wading through them.
To date, the database contains 386 files, the majority of which are from the Snowden leak, though a few contextual NSA documents such as glossaries of code names are also included.
It's a small fraction of the trove of documents Snowden handed over to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in April of 2013, which is estimated to top 50,000.
Several other organizations have released archives of the Snowden files, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S.-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.
However, CJFE says its database is the "world's first fully indexed and searchable collection" of the publicly released Snowden files.
Journalists, academics and interested citizens can search by the name of the surveillance project, the type of surveillance and the spy agency that wrote the document.
Key words such as code names are entered in the database, but the full text of documents is also searchable.
"We tried to make this the most robust, searchable database possible so that no matter what you're looking for, you can find the content," said Tribe.