The Slatest

Edward Snowden on Surveillance Changes: “The Balance of Power Is Beginning to Shift”

Edward Snowden, shown here in Hong Kong in 2013, writes in an op-ed that “a change in global awareness” led to the curtailment of U.S. surveillance powers.

Photo by The Guardian via Getty Images

In an op-ed for the New York Times titled “The World Says No to Surveillance,” former NSA contractor Edward Snowden credited “the power of an informed public” with helping to move Congress to curtail American government surveillance authority.

This week’s passage of the USA Freedom Act, along with a recent federal appeals court ruling that many surveillance programs conducted under the Patriot Act were not authorized by the law’s provisions, might signal that “the balance of power is beginning to shift,” Snowden writes in the Times:

Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen, but it is only the latest product of a change in global awareness. […]

For the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we see the outline of a politics that turns away from reaction and fear in favor of resilience and reason. With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear.

The USA Freedom Act fell far short of the reforms advocated by some legislators—several Democrats and libertarian Republicans in the House of Representatives had proposed a bill to repeal the Patriot Act in its entirety—and Snowden acknowledged that many of the practices he exposed will be unaffected by the changes to telephone data collection agreed to this week in Congress.

Metadata revealing the personal associations and interests of ordinary Internet users is still being intercepted and monitored on a scale unprecedented in history: As you read this online, the United States government makes a note.

While he praised bodies including the United Nations and the Brazilian government for recent moves in favor of protecting citizens from government surveillance, Snowden cautioned that many are still vulnerable to “the arbitrary passage of anti-privacy laws, such as those now descending upon Russia,” where he has lived since 2013.