...and why they will be hoist with that petard.
This one seems very obvious to me. The NSA seizes a collection of data, puts their "top secret" stamp on it, and then says that anyone else accessing that data is a spy and should get the full spy treatment.
There are laws dealing with the ownership of metadata. Generally, those laws say that whoever originally generates the data in their server owns it. Those laws are going to be hard to evade, and if they are evaded by the NSA in the Snowden affair, it will go wrong for the NSA, not Snowden. The only other possible interpretation of those laws that is possible is to allow that the parties to the metadata to also have an ownership interest.
Here's how that would work. Say I, as a Verizon customer, make a phone call to my son, also a Verizon customer (we both are, BTW). Signals originating in both of our devices are recorded by Verizon, which maintains the servers necessary to operate the network I am using. Verizon stores the data originating as a result of the call. All this is legal.
Now, along comes NSA, and serves a court order on Verizon for the metadata which they possess. ALL the metadata which they possess. I'm guessing here, but I believe that this is ONLY legal due to the power of the FIS Court, that it's not written into law anywhere that NSA, or any arm of the Government, is a co-owner of the metadata. Verizon, of course, gives up the metadata upon verifying the order of the court. The court order also says to keep it's order it a secret, but this is a side-issue not germane to the discussion.
This discussion is NOT about anything but the lawful ownership of the metadata, and whether that lawful ownership, belonging as it does to Verizon, can be converted to the Government by an order of a court that does not bother to use Due Process.
As you can see, the Snowden case isn't really about Snowden, it is about the metadata, and if the Government can't make the case, in open court, why it owns that metadata, it has little jurisdiction over Snowden, either. As I see it, Snowden violated the terms of his employment, and he might have violated the terms of his security clearance, which DOES belong to the Government (although the Government was stupid to give him one in the first place). Above all, Snowden might have stolen the metadata, which belongs to whichever company ran the server it was generated upon. Snowden faces a variety of theft charges, and whatever charge for abuse of his security clearance, but not espionage.
Verizon should fight back, and as a customer, I am going to write them a letter urging them to do so. I think that Verizon and all the other companies holding metadata which the NSA hijacked should charge the Government a fair price for that metadata. Five dollars a byte seems about right, so who has a computer that can tally that tab?
BTW, As a Verizon customer, it has occurred to me that VZW is making money off of ME with the metadata generated by my smartphone use, so why don't I have a case to charge them for that metadata as well? I'll charge the usual "finder's fee" rate, 10%, or fifty cents per byte. Lessee here, at an average of 1.6gb/month which I use, that comes to $800 million per month. I've been a VZW customer since the start of the company, about 12 years ago, wasn't it? Hmmm, $800M times 12 times 12 = $115.2B.
Of course I'm not going to be able to enforce collection on a bill of that size, but if the courts eventually rule that I am part owner of my metadata, and I have made a prior claim for payment, my claim would be valid back to it's original date, wouldn't it?
All things have value, as the Government and the telecomm companies need to realize. Putting a value on metadata ought to shake some apples out of that tree, don't you think?