Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act and President George W. Bush subsequently signed it into law.
The extremely extensive piece of legislation granted the government new powers to track the finances of terrorist groups, created new federal crimes pertaining to terrorism and appropriated federal funds to aid victims of terror attacks.
At the time, it was widely viewed as a necessary step forward in the wake of a devastating national tragedy.
But in 2013, the public perception of the PATRIOT Act shifted abruptly when Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked documents revealing the act granted the government broad surveillance powers through a provision known as Section 215.
In particular, Snowden detailed the way in which Section 215 was used to justify a National Security Agency program involving the bulk collection of Americans' phone records.
These revelations sent shockwaves across the world and made Snowden an international fugitive.
He is one of the most infamous whistleblowers in history, viewed by some as a hero and others as a villain. Snowden currently lives in Russia where he was granted asylum.
On Tuesday, just several days after Section 215 and other provisions of the PATRIOT Act expired, the US Senate passed the USA Freedom Act, which President Obama signed into law, CNN reports.
This new legislation ends the bulk collection of Americans' phone records and represents the most significant reform to government surveillance in years.
Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security. I'll sign it as soon as I get it. — President Obama (@POTUS) June 2, 2015
The USA Freedom Act provides for more transparency and oversight of the government's surveillance activities.
The government must now obtain a warrant for the collection of phone metadata from telecommunications companies, CNN explains.
None of this would've happened had Edward Snowden not made the bold decision to incriminate himself by leaking thousands of government documents two years ago.
In the wake of the news surrounding the USA Freedom Act, Snowden said becoming an international fugitive was completely worth it given how it has helped place limitations on the government's surveillance powers.
Speaking from Moscow via live video to an audience at an Amnesty International event in London, Snowden said,
For the first time in recent history we found that despite the claims of government, the public made the final decision and that is a radical change that we should seize on, we should value and we should push further.
Thus, while he views this as a significant step forward, it's obvious he thinks there is still work to be done.
Arguably, he's not wrong.
While the USA Freedom Act does bring about substantive reforms, it also renews provisions of the PATRIOT Act which debatably give the government too much power.
Accordingly, Snowden contends Congress must still do more to limit government surveillance.
Citations: Anti Spying Law Wins Cautious Praise From Edward Snowden (Time ), Edward Snowden Vindicated As Senate Passes USA Freedom Bill Curtailing NSA Surveillance (Huffington Post UK), NSA surveillance bill passes after weeks long showdown (CNN)