It’s been nearly two years since Edward Snowden blew the whistle regarding National Security Agency practices and became a household name. While some think of him as a traitor, others have lauded him as a hero.

Regardless of your feelings about the guy, there’s no question that his revelations changed the way we consider security and surveillance in the 21st century. That’s just what Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Robert Chesney, director of the University of Texas Strauss Center for International Security and Law, discussed during “What’s Next? Surveillance Reform Post-Snowden” at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive.

“This started as a discussion about the NSA and about that kind of surveillance, but it has morphed into something a little bit broader and something different,” Fakhoury said during the panel. “How do we talk about policing? How do we talk about surveillance, at even the local level, in the modern age where technology is eclipsing the ability of the law and the lawmakers to keep up with these changes in technologies?”


The months since Snowden’s leaks have ushered in policy reports, a number of legislative proposals, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and lawsuits regarding the data collections. But perhaps most prevailing are the conversations that have started since the disclosures.

Emerging questions, the panelists noted, include the effectiveness of NSA tactics, the balance between civil liberties and safety, the definition of search and seizure in the 21st century, the 1979 Supreme Court case of Smith V. Maryland—which remains the precedent for defending data collection without a warrant, and Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire in June. Snowden’s leaks have also influenced how we think about other activities, such as license plate readers, as mundane as they may sound.

Fakhoury and Chesney also stressed that while questions linger, the government is offering more transparency than it was before Snowden’s leaks. Citing the Tumblr account IC on the Record, they noted an increased knowledge of national programs and the ability to have informed debates about them.