It is virtually impossible for anyone not to have registered last year’s revelations of the NSA abusing its powers to spy on US citizens and, as it turned out, on everyone else. The man who came forward with these scandalous assertions was Edward Snowden. In the aftermath of his disclosures about North America’s most influential security agency he was declared a traitor, a hero, and a myth.
Laura Poitras, known for her unerringly accurate documentaries on US intervention policies following the events of 9/11, having been closely monitored by the government herself, directed this real-life thriller, portraying how one person became America’s most wanted from one day to the next. She bravely attempts to shed light on an individual who has polarized public opinion and revives the rage-inducing story once more with this release.
The film’s setup is sparse, focussing on the events and conversations leading to the meeting with Snowden in Hong Kong and the release of his disclosures that would later lead to his political and financial ruin but also his greatest moral triumph, unveiling to the world not only the most outrageous invasion of privacy, the eradication of freedom of information and speech, but also the diminution of human rights.
At times, the technicalities of how national security agencies acquire and work with our personal, confidential data get so complicated; one can only wonder at how the US government managed to keep their unmitigated strategies under wraps. For someone with practically no knowledge about data systems, the government’s activities to get hold of information on individuals, and eventually entire societies, appear too muddled to ever allow ordinary people to fully grasp.
The documentary also shows the contributions of journalists Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Barton Gellman who translated these Delphic techniques into a language people all over the world would be able to decipher.
What Snowden never had in mind was to become the actual story rather than the story he wanted to tell the world. The fact that some media symbolized him as a martyr, fighting for his life after revealing ‘top secret’ information, complicated and impeded the debate of governmental power Snowden wanted to prompt.
The world was and still is not only talking about the enigma that is Edward Snowden but is also, and perhaps more importantly, finally calling the ways personal data are handled into question. And this is what Snowden was hoping for, after all.
Maria was listening to the sounds of silence while writing this article.