Washington: Intelligence leaker Edward Snowden`s revelations about the scale of American eavesdropping have succeeded in triggering a fierce debate which could ultimately lead to limits on National Security Agency spying, experts say.
Snowden has been labeled a "traitor" by government officials but events this week signalled a possible vindication for the former computer contractor, who has always insisted he is a whistleblower trying to shed light on the NSA`s secret surveillance.
Six months since a stream of bombshell revelations began pouring out from Snowden, members of Congress are proposing new laws to rein in the NSA, a federal judge ruled one of its programs is likely unconstitutional and a panel handpicked by the White House has called for sweeping changes to electronic surveillance.
It is "undeniable that we`re having a series of debates about the appropriate limits of government surveillance that, without Edward Snowden, we would not be having," said Stephen Vladeck, professor of law at American University.
"If Snowden`s goal was to spark a public debate I think he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams," he told a news agency.
Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Russia and faces espionage charges in the US, has expressed satisfaction that federal judge Richard Leon found the NSA`s collection of Americans` telephone records probably violated privacy rights and that the snooping was "almost Orwellian" in scale.
"Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans` rights," Snowden said after Monday`s ruling.
The most serious rebuke to the NSA came Wednesday from a panel of establishment figures named by the White House to review the surveillance operations that mushroomed after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The panel, which included a career spy who served as acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Morrell, called for imposing limits on the NSA`s powers, scaling back its secrecy and reforming the agency.
"We conclude that some of the authorities that were expanded or created in the aftermath of September 11 unduly sacrifice fundamental interests in individual liberty, personal privacy, and democratic governance," the panel wrote in its report issued Wednesday.
The panel also called into question claims from US spy chiefs that the dragnet of phone and Internet traffic has kept America safe, saying the spying "was not essential to preventing attacks."