The Current

Public opinion shifts on government surveillance post-Snowden

The sheer breadth and depth of surveillance in the U.S. is changing the American conversation in the halls of power, and with a wary public. In the meantime, Canada is forging ahead with its own Bill C-51 to give its spies more power to dig into our digital droppings.
In April, Senator Rand Paul promised to force the expiration of a surveillance program that allows the mass collection of Americans' phone records. Sunday at midnight, the NSA lost its power to collect Americans' phone records. (Associated Press file photo)

Today we take an essential step in fighting terrorism. This new law that I sign today will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists, including e-mails, the Internet and cell phones.- Then U.S. President George Bush, nearly 15 years ago

The dust had hardly settled at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, when the Patriot Act was signed into law.

Americans knew it would expand government surveillance powers, and for at least a decade, there was complacency with the state of state surveillance. But that changed in 2013, with the revelations in former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaks... as the American public finally learned just how far-reaching that government surveillance truly was.

The shift in how comfortable Americans are feeling under Uncle Sam's watchful gaze is palpable. At midnight the door closed on the Patriot Act, at least for now. Civil rights advocates and many everyday citizens are celebrating even across party lines as some of its most controversial provisions have expired, despite a weekend effort that forced the U.S. Senate into a rare Sunday session to try to replace the most contentious sections of that act.

Glenn Greenwald is a lawyer and one of the founder editors of the online news site The Intercept.  He played a key role in reporting and publishing the Snowden leaks, and has been covering these issues for a decade -- and watching public perceptions of them shift. We reached him in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

That the sun has set, even temporarily, on some of the surveillance powers of U.S. federal authorities, speaks to the debate over privacy and rights here at home. Canada is about to adopt Bill C51, the legislation giving our security agencies expanded surveillance powers. 

For a look at how the public debate has played out in Canada, we were joined by Wesley WarkHe is a national security affairs and terrorism expert with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.

We requested an interview with the Minster of Public Safety Steven Blaney. He declined. 

Have your feelings about Bill C-51, or government surveillance in general, changed over time? How do you feel about the state of privacy, versus the need for security, today?  

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​This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch.

Comedian John Oliver took on the government surveillance topic on his HBO Show "Last Week Tonight" in April, with this telling example of where privacy concerns rank in some Americans' priorities.