The review board's assertion that the NSA phone records program isn't essential to counterterrorism "pulls the legs out from under" the Obama administration's claims that the program is necessary, Nojeim said. "It's devastating."
In the long term, the review board's report may be more damaging to the NSA's current mode of operation than Leon's ruling. The court case Leon is overseeing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is in its initial stages, with the U.S. Department of Justice likely to appeal.
Leon's decision seems to conflict with a ruling last month by Judge Jeffrey Miller of the Southern District of California, and it could be many months before the D.C. case is resolved or is sent on to an appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts said.
Meanwhile, it's unclear what Obama will do with the review boards' report, with a formal reaction from the White House expected in January. Some news reports have suggested that Obama will reject some of the recommendations. The White House offered little comment on the report following its release.
But several advocates of NSA surveillance reform say the week's events will put pressure on both Obama and Congress to make changes.
The two big events of the week have "launched forward the momentum" for reasonable surveillance reform, said Lynne Bradley, director of government relations at the American Library Association, a group that's long pushed for more privacy protections from surveillance.
Still, Bradley predicted, changes in the U.S. surveillance structure could take years, with difficult debates still to come. "We have to prepare for the long haul," she said. "These [events] are little points of light."
In addition to Leon's opinion and the task force report, a group of tech executives met with White House officials during the week to voice their concerns about surveillance.
Also during the week, more than 50 groups and companies wrote to congressional leaders urging them to oppose the FISA Improvements Act, a bill sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein's bill would add some transparency to the surveillance process but would largely codify current NSA practices.
The events of the week build on a request in earlier December from eight large Internet firms, including Google, Facebook and Apple, for surveillance reform in the U.S. and other countries.
"At this point, the NSA's bulk collection program has been roundly and unanimously criticized by privacy and civil liberties advocates, the Internet industry, a bipartisan selection of key Congressional leaders, a federal court, and the president's own hand-picked panel of advisors," said Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, another group critical of the NSA programs. "The tide had definitively turned against the NSA's mass surveillance practices."
Bankston, in an email, called on Obama to halt the program as soon as possible. Obama "needn't wait for Capitol Hill" to act, he said.