What Ed Snowden has achieved so far

Roger Cohen has a terrific column in today’s International Herald Tribune listing the things we wouldn’t have known if Edward Snowden hadn’t revealed them.

Here’s a summary of Cohen’s list:

We would not know:

  • how the N.S.A. has been able to access the e-mails or Facebook accounts or videos of citizens across the world
  • how it has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans
  • how through requests to the compliant and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.A.) it has been able to bend nine U.S. Internet companies to its demands for access to clients’ digital information
  • We would not be:

  • debating whether the United States really should have turned surveillance into big business, offering data-mining contracts to the likes of Booz Allen and, in the process, high-level security clearance to myriad folk who probably should not have it
  • having a serious debate at last between Europeans, with their more stringent views on privacy, and Americans about where the proper balance between freedom and security lies
  • We would not have:

  • legislation to bolster privacy safeguards and require more oversight introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee
  • a letter from two Democrats to the N.S.A. director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, saying that a government fact sheet about surveillance abroad “contains an inaccurate statement” (and where does that assertion leave Alexander’s claims of the effectiveness and necessity of Prism?)
  • In short, without Snowden’s revelations we would not be having

    a long-overdue debate about what the U.S. government does and does not do in the name of post-9/11 security — the standards applied in the F.I.S.A. court, the safeguards and oversight surrounding it and the Prism program, the protection of civil liberties against the devouring appetites of intelligence agencies armed with new data-crunching technology — would not have occurred, at least not now.

    That just about nails it.