What’s XKeyscore? It’s the NSA’s way of building a realtime dossier on targets — Americans — without a court order or even evidence that they’ve done anything wrong, according to a story in the Guardian.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing “real-time” interception of an individual’s internet activity.

Might such capabilities be used for purposes well outside tracking terrorists?

Yes.

One of the issues discussed was the concern that once the government has the ability to gather information on virtually every American, that it’s only a matter of time before that information is used to intimidate or manipulate – particularly lawmakers and national figures whose decisions impact the entire country.

“Do you think that kind of stuff is happening yet?” Beck asked.

Roark responded: “I do believe that is happening. It’s being used for political purposes — it was used against the five of us [whistleblowers] for political purposes. We had done nothing wrong. They came after us and tried to find anything they could to get us in jail…They searched for seven years.”

She added: “I believe the Republic is at risk with this program, there is no way you can remain free when the government has a dossier on almost every citizen in the country. Over time, we will lose our freedom, and we’re already losing it.”