LONDON – A year has passed since the American former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden began revealing the massive scope of Internet surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency.
His disclosures have elicited public outrage and sharp rebukes from close U.S. allies like Germany, upending rosy assumptions about how free and secure the Internet and telecommunications networks really are.
Single-handedly Snowden has changed how people regard their phones, tablets and laptops, and sparked a public debate about the protection of personal data.
What his revelations have not done is bring about significant reforms.
To be sure, U.S. President Barack Obama, spurred by an alliance between civil society organizations and the technology industry, has taken some action. In a January speech, and an accompanying presidential policy directive, Obama ordered American spies to recognize that “all persons should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or wherever they might reside, and that all persons have legitimate privacy interests in the handling of their personal information.”
Some specific advances, unprecedented in the shadowy world of intelligence agencies, have accompanied this rhetorical commitment to privacy. When technology companies sued the government to release details about intelligence requests, the Obama administration compromised, supporting a settlement that allows for more detailed reporting. Under this agreement, compani...