… and nothing much will change.
There is only one group of people that the NSA is spying on that matters to most Americans. And that is other Americans. So what will happen is even more of that particular function… spying on Americans… will be outsourced to the British GCHQ, which already effectively acts an arms length subsidiary of the NSA, bought and payed for with US taxpayers money.
But the rules will be re-written to make it theoretically harder for the NSA to engage in mass surveillance of Americans, at least the ones in America. This will mollify enough of US public opinion to take away the pressure for any actual reduction in budget and capabilities. Indeed capabilities will continue to be expanded now that the NSA has been seen to be ‘brought under control’. Not that it was ever actually out of control.
And if you are not an American, you will just have to get used to the idea that the USA will be logging your mobile phone and internet meta-data… at least until enough of the internet gets fragmented into national enclaves which are capable of keeping the data secure from the Americans (at the baleful expense of making it easier for one’s own national government to control things).
And even people who were previously well disposed towards America will start see the institutions of the USA’s government as a threat rather than an ally. Reflexive anti-Americans will beat that drum long and hard and sadly it will be impossible to refute them, because for once they will be quite correct.
This will of course materially change the internet, and indeed the world, for the worse.
But most Americans will not give a damn as the net will still seem to work just fine in the USA and who cares if the US government is logging who calls who in Germany and Brazil?
But the upside, which is already happening, is new methods and approaches to security will appear and that is actually a ‘long war’ that the NSA and GCHQ cannot possibly win. I suspect Edward Snowdon’s lasting legacy will be simply making far more people aware that they were in a different battle for security than the one they thought they were in, and that means there are some rather interesting market opportunities for many different kinds of security.
But whatever ‘reforms’ for the NSA that get trotted out over the next few months and years, I would be very surprised indeed if anything really changes. The deck will get shuffled but the game and the stakes will remain the same.