30 Jan-5 Feb 2015 #743


The chilling documentary that helps understanding the impact of Snowden’s revelations
Sophia Pande

Have any of you ever felt a faint niggling paranoia when typing words like “Islamic Art”, “Quran”, “Islamic State”, or other equally innocuous but potentially flag raising words into search engines just because you want to bring up a Wikipedia page to get more information about what’s in the news?

Well, even if you have heard of Edward Snowden and his shocking exposure of the extent of the American NSA (National Security Agency)’s surveillance network, mostly of ordinary citizens, you may not fully understand the impact of those revelations until you watch Laura Poitras’s chilling documentary Citizenfour. The film is named after the pseudonym Snowden used when he first contacted Poitras via a highly encrypted communication.

Perhaps you have already read a few in-depth profiles of Poitras (there are two particularly penetrating pieces by the New Yorker) which will give you an indication of this woman’s tenacity in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, namely her own government’s subterfuges regarding complicity at the highest levels (yes, we are talking about POTUS – the President of the United States) regarding the NSA’s transgressions in violating people’s privacy.

Though the film dwells more on Snowden’s extreme acts of determination (some might call it courage) in exposing the United States’ vast surveillance networks, it is clear these facts could only have been exposed in conjunction with the likes of Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald, another valiant American journalist based out of Brazil.

Whatever you may think of Snowden, a narcissist with delusions of grandeur or a heroic fighter for the freedom of speech and the basic laws of privacy that democracy defends, remember this, we live in a world where everything we do: our mobile phone calls, internet searches, debit cards, even theater tickets, can be tracked should someone be so inclined to do so. Does that make you comfortable?

Citizenfour is a well-made, extremely well shot, sophisticated documentary, no doubt, but it is also the best kind of documentary in that it creates discussion, raising questions that must be answered in today’s digital age.

Of course we want to be safe, but do we want our governments making unilateral decisions regarding our supposed safety and then lying to us about it? Why tap millions of people’s phones (including Angela Merkel’s by the way) and then deny it? Shouldn’t we know what is happening and either be able to discuss it and/or disagree with it? Is fighting terrorism an excuse for monitoring the ordinary citizen at extraordinary levels? What is the cost of that kind of invasion of privacy? Poitras’s troubling documentary will make you ask all these questions and more.