What people used to call liberty and freedom, we now call privacy. And we say, in the same breath, that privacy is dead….I think we should consider that when we lose privacy, we lose agency, we lose liberty itself, because we no longer feel free to express what we think. – Jacob Applebaum
In June 2013, what was labeled then as “the spy story of the age” broke when reporter Glenn Greenwald released United States government documents that revealed perhaps the largest breach of privacy by a government in recent history.
Several days later, his source was revealed: Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old NSA contractor.
Almost immediately, the focus shifted from what the documents disclosed about the comprehensive sweep of the data of private citizens the NSA was engaged in to Snowden himself. Most called him a traitor and dissident, his actions being deemed treasonous. A small few praised him as a whistleblower, patriot, and hero. The Obama administration condemned the leak and charged him with violating the 1917 Espionage Act.
The aftermath played itself out in a fairly predictable manner. Less than a month before the release of the documents, Snowden had left his home, job, six-figure income, and girlfriend in Hawaii and flown to Hong Kong. After applying for asylum in numerous countries, he flew to Russia, where he currently lives in an undisclosed location.
In what can be considered a rather interesting and remarkable turn of events, twenty months after the first documents were released, visibly nervous filmmaker Laura Poitras and hesitant reporter Glenn Greenwald stood on the platform of the 87th Academy Awards and accepted the Oscar for Best Documentary for Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden.
Citizenfour is chilling. The footage is real, shot in the days leading up to and immediately following the release of Snowden’s findings regarding the NSA. It’s raw, giving viewers a glimpse of the man behind the documents.
And it’s currently available to watch free online.
You probably have an opinion about Snowden. I do. Personally, I’m reminded of what Ed Hunsinger tweeted some time ago:
When I have kids I’ll tell them about Edward Snowden when explaining how you should do the right thing regardless of how difficult it may be.
Snowden doesn’t think of himself as “traitor or hero,” but rather “an American,” words faintly reminiscent of Patrick Henry’s declaration that “I am not a Virginian, but an American.” In fact, Snowden quoted the founder in a Reddit AMA the day after the Oscars: “If this be treason, make the most if it.”
Whatever your thoughts are about Snowden, what he did, and why he did it, Citizenfour reveals him to be anything but a disgruntled employee bent on wreaking havoc on U.S. security and needlessly endangering lives. Rather, it shows just how calculated Snowden’s actions were. He released the documents, not for personal gain or glory, but because he firmly believed the American people — and the world — deserved to know what kind of data the U.S. government was collecting about its citizens and how amassed the information. And he did so knowing full well what the personal cost would be.
If you already support and applaud Snowden, Citizenfour will give you more reasons to keep cheering him on. If you’re still on the fence or if you don’t agree with the what/why/how of his actions, it may perhaps cause you to look at the issue in a new light, and maybe even reconsider your position.
I came away from Citizenfour inspired, not only by Snowden himself, but also by those who worked with him to shine light on the truth. Reporters, filmmakers, and lawyers risked much to assist him in his endeavors, and without their courageous support the world would probably never have heard of Edward Snowden, nor of the vastness of the spying program the U.S. government sees fit to employ against its citizens.
As Snowden once said,
You can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realized that leadership is about being the first to act.
Note: for the sake of full disclosure, this film *is* rated R. There are eight uses of the f-word (six in one brief conversation and two much later, toward the end of the film). However, there is no other content that would prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending Citizenfour, and even as-is I would give it a five-star rating.