I think many are painting too broad a stroke when putting the NSA in the same bag as the services of other more repressive countries.
I will preface my comments here by saying that I have worked on some aspects of the broad intelligence-gathering programs that are being questioned. Specifically, I helped to write some of the software tools being used by people like Mr. Snowden to mine and interpret this vast quantity of gathered data.
I can assure everyone that the strongest line of defense, when it comes to privacy and individual rights, are those Americans that are creating and fine-tuning those very systems. Each person and organization is deeply aware of the implications of their work and the potential for abuse. It is those individuals that provide the greatest barrier to abuse because they ARE Americans; and care deeply about our rights.
That check and balance is simply not present in totalitarian countries. The actions of Mr. Snowden are a response to that check and balance. In China, he never would have made it out of the country.
Do I have a problem with the questions being asked? Heck no! I asked many of these same questions myself. Since most of the facts in this case are not new in the media; it goes to show that many of people working on these programs have spoken publicly about aspects that disturb. Such discussion simply does not occur in China. It has occurred here and continues. That is a good thing.
One discussion I think needs to be had is the recent recusal of the Courts in deciding the fate of Guantanamo detainees. Just as with NSA programs, the jurisdiction is not as clear legally as Americans might think.
Who commands the NSA? Who controls the budget of the NSA, NRA, *** ? Does the Justice Branch have authority to regulate those activities? What rights of foreign nationals are Americans required to respect? These are questions that a modern, evolved society should be having. Not worrying that the government knows you called Aunt Bertha last week at 8:52pm and that the call lasted 13minutes.