Last week, the U.S. Congress passed the first major revisions to the National Security Agency’s surveillance capabilities since revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden brought its domestic data-gathering operations to light in June 2013. Snowden, who has been indicted for leaking the classified information, quickly took to the opinion pages of The New York Times for a victory lap.
Calling Congress’s actions “a historic victory for the rights of every citizen,” Snowden declared that the end to the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA “is only the latest product of a change in global awareness” about mass surveillance.
But Snowden’s self-congratulation masks a more complicated reality, not just about surveillance, but also Snowden’s own actions, which in fact have done very little to expand privacy rights. Indeed, while the NSA has taken a public relations black eye, the Snowden leaks have done relatively little to change the way it operates.