This is a film by Laura Poitras about the release of documents by Edward Snowden concerning the surveillance programs of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US. Poitras was already working on a film about the monitoring programmes apparently when she got a message from someone identifying himself as ‘Citizenfour’ offering inside information.
Eventually, together with Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill, they set up a meeting with the whistle-blower at the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, and over the next few days start releasing stories about the mass surveillance, not just of American citizens, but of people all round the globe.
After a few days of stories, carefully released to cause maximum news coverage, Snowden gives an interview with Greenwald in which he reveals he is the source of the leaks. This self-revelation was apparently something he always felt he should do, rather than ‘skulk in the shadows’ as he puts it.
The film shows just how widespread the practice has become for government agencies to use wide dragnet means to surveil not only their own citizens, but all communications they can get their hands on. The NSA it turns out are not even as bad as the British intelligence agencies.
The information released led to high-level enquiries being set up in many countries, including Brazil where Greenwald lives and gave testimony; and in Europe, where the EU found out even their leader’s communications were tapped by the supposedly friendly US intelligence agencies.
Many changes were made in various ways to try and protect citizens from this unwarranted breach of privacy and liberty, but the problem is structural, and the only way to prevent this sort of thing from happening is to redesign our communication networks so they are decentralised and encrypted at base so they cannot be collected and used in this way.
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