I spy: Barack Obama, February 2013.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP

The long-running debate over the tradeoffs the United States should make between national security and civil liberties flared up spectacularly last summer, when Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor, handed journalists a huge trove of heavily classified documents that exposed, in excruciating detail, electronic surveillance programs and other operations carried out by the NSA. Americans suddenly learned that in recent years, the NSA had been acquiring the phone and Internet communications of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, as well as collecting massive volumes of bulk telephone records known as “metadata” -- phone numbers and the time and length of calls. Along with the rest of the world, Americans found out that the NSA had broken common forms of online encryption, tapped the phones of various foreign heads of state, and monitored global communications far more aggressively than was previously understood.

Howls of outrage erupted. Brazilian President Dilma

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  • DANIEL BYMAN is a Professor in the Security Studies Program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Follow him on Twitter @dbyman. BENJAMIN WITTES is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, Editor in Chief of the blog Lawfare, and a member of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on National Security and Law. Follow him on Twitter @benjaminwittes.
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