Why the Snowden the Movie Matters

I’ve reviewed Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden elsewhere, and it’s well worth seeing just as a movie. But of course the issues brought up by Snowden the man, and Snowden the movie, are more complex than fit into two hours.

I had this hit home in a recent discussion with a friend who keeps insisting he has nothing to hide in his emails, phone calls, social media, etc., so why should he care if the NSA looks at all that?

Friend, here’s why:

NSA surveillance is legal.

True, as was slavery in the U.S., the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws serve higher purposes. They can be manipulated for evil. That’s why we need checks and balances to protect us.

Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

The king of all checks and balances in this, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex.

As for the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA), set up to review government requests for wiretapping, it approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. The FBI made 15,229 National Security Letter requests in 2012 on Americans. None of those even require FISA rubber-stamping. And here’s DOJ trying to keep classified a court ruling that says it might have acted unconstitutionally.

The first FISA ruling ever released in full came from Edward Snowden. Before that, no one outside a small circle inside the government had ever seen one.

And you know who represents the “suspect” (i.e., you) in front of the FISA court? No one. You don’t even know they’re reviewing you.

If all the NSA’s activities are legal, why not allow them to be tested openly and unambiguously in public, in front of the Supreme Court. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide. Unfortunately, when Amnesty International tried to bring such a case before the Court, the case was denied because Amnesty could not prove it was subject to monitoring– that was a secret!– and thus was denied standing to even bring the suit.

Unfettered surveillance violates both the Fourth Amendment protections against search, and the First Amendment protections on the right to peaceably assemble, online in this instance.

Anyway, whatever, FISA. I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care? If you’re doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide!

The definition of “wrong” can change very quickly, especially if you have no way to defend yourself, or even know you’re under suspicion. Are you really, really ready to risk everything on what is right and wrong today staying that way forever? Seems like a fool’s bet, given America’s witch hunts in the 1950s for communists, and Islamophobia today. Things do change.

Well, I trust Obama on this.

Good for you. There’ll be a new president soon. You also trust him or her? How about the one after that, and the one after that? Data collected is forever. Trusting anyone with such power is foolish.

FYI, whether you trust Obama, Trump, Hillary or the next presidents, do remember your personal data is in the hands of the same people that run the TSA, the IRS and the DMV. Do you trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? Do you believe none of them would ever sell your data for personal profit ever? That they have your information so well protected hackers will never get to it and dump it out onto the Internet?

How about other governments? The NSA is already sharing your data with, at minimum, British and Israeli intelligence. Those are foreign governments that your American government is informing on you to.

Distasteful as this all is, it is necessary to keep us safe. It’s for our own good.

The United States, upholding to our beautiful Bill of Rights, has survived (albeit on a sometimes bumpy road) two world wars, the Cold War and innumerable challenges without a massive, all-inclusive destruction of our civil rights. Keep in mind that the Founders created the Bill of Rights, point-by-point, specifically to address the abuses of power (look up the never-heard-from-again Third Amendment) they experienced under an oppressive British government.

A bunch of angry jihadis, some real and many imagined, seems a poor reason to change that system. Prior to 9/11 we did not have a mass-scale terror act (by foreigners; American Citizen Timothy McVeigh pulled one off.) Since 9/11 we have not had a mass-scale terror attack. More than 15 years in, we must accept 9/11 was a one-off, an aberration, and cannot be a justification for everything the government wishes to do.

There is also the question of why, if the NSA is vacuuming up everything, and even sharing that collection abroad, this all needs to be kept secret from the American people. If it is for our own good, the government should be proud to tell us what they are doing for us, instead of being embarrassed when it leaks.

After all, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide, right?

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

12 thoughts on “Why the Snowden the Movie Matters”

  1. I was going to use the blow-off line of your article if for some reason (chronic recurrent episodes of Cerebral Flatulence) you had forgotten. It’s the selling point of the whole concept. I would buy it but it’s already freely given. Just, reader, remember the Hoovers. J Edgar became director of the FBI before Herbert Hoover became president. Back before they put the Federal part into the name. Herbert Hoover was outta there in 1933. J Edgar died in office in the 70s.
    Not one single voter cast a ballot for J Edgar. I’m putting up another t-shirt, “Bureaucrats RULE!” unless it’s already been done.

    The Bureaucracy was mostly ostensible, people could see it. Now we have hidden bureaucracy. They must be ashamed of what they do.

  2. I was confused watching the movie. Donald Trump came up a few times. Why??? Donald Trump was going off the main stream media’s pushed line that Snowden was a Traitor. Trump had no intelligence briefing like Obama or Hiliary Clinton. Trump is a civilian running for office. Barack Obama was made to appear that he stepped in and fixed the NSA spying upon Americans towards the end of The film. That’s a out right lie. No one was fired and Obama knew exactly what was going on he gets intelligence briefing every freaking day same with Hiliary . Did any one observe Hiliary Clinton making a statement in this move. She was Secretary of State and in government for thirty years. This movie is a scam to push a fascist narrative. Why are American people so stupid.

    1. ” Donald Trump came up a few times. Why??? Donald Trump was going off the main stream media’s pushed line that Snowden was a Traitor. Trump had no intelligence briefing like Obama or Hiliary Clinton.”

      OK, so what you’re saying is that he doesn’t have any idea what the hell he’s talking about.

      When you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, the recommended course of action is to shut the fuck up, not to try and sell your ignorance as a qualification for the presidency.

      1. So what your saying you have to be borned , raised and trained as a CIA asset like Obama or be connected into what ee no know was criminal activites of the NSA spying upon the american people. Hilliary as a thrity year poltucal hack who is a known lair , wall street asset and cprporate fascist. I would rather have a american that is untouched by this criminal activity then be briefed daily by intelligence assets to make decisions. Your a idiot and corporate facist leaning punk.

        1. The idea that Trump is “non-establishment” is probably the single silliest claim of this presidential campaign. He was born into the establishment, the establishment made him a billionaire, and he’s never moved a millimeter away from whence he came.

          1. So now you morphed into a class agitating communist punk. This is the free markets make as much money as you want. Trump a bussiness man and patriot is running against a thirty year political estalishment criminal hack who is owned by every stinking corporation and wall street bankrr who wishes to steal freedom and steal tax money from the American people. She is own through saudi kings who brought her and own her by political donations in the millions. Im not telling you anything you dont know. Good luck worh your dibold corporation coming in ti save hiliary using its criminal software to count the votes. Stalin would love you people. Snowden , if your out there please prevent Dibold from stealing tjhe American vote. Please!!!’

          2. The next dollar Trump makes on anything resembling a free market will be the first. The wealth he inherited from daddy came from government housing contracts. The wealth he turned it into came from government subsidies and monopoly grants (and even then he managed to go bankrupt four times running casinos — effectively government-granted licenses to print money).

            If I hadn’t seen him and Clinton in the same room together, I wouldn’t be convinced they’re not the same person.

          3. That bit about casinos is being blamed (by Trump) on Native Autonomy, which is itself being challenged by the Current administration. (Cannonball River)
            Personally, I see nothing trivial or hurt feelings on that count.

            And Tom didn’t even go into the notion that there’s not one single square inch of U.S. territory that wasn’t taken at government (taxpayer) subsidized gunpoint.

            You should pace yourself while typing, especially when you’re angry. You misspelled what appears to be baby-talk.

            I just came off another forum where it was noticed that Trump and Hillary DO look like brother and sister.

            It’s Eerie.

            The biggest difference in style of the two is that we’ll have either a continued war of expansion or a civil war, and probably both.

          4. The idea that Trump is “non-establishment” is probably the single silliest claim of this presidential campaign.

            It’s an idea that has certainly been pushed by the establishment… I’ll take them at their word on this. If not their word, definitely by their actions.

      2. Even Ted Cruz had to condemn Snowden. Cruz had previously praised Snowden.

        Republicans just have to do that.

        By your reasoning, Gary Johnson shouldn’t have spoken on TPP and a lot of other things.

        Ah, just realised this is an old post…

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