Like many Americans and people around the world, I was deeply disturbed to hear the revelations of Edward Snowden about N.S.A. surveillance, which is an affront to the United States Bill of Rights. But as a filmmaker who has made a number of documentaries about technology and online activism, I can’t say that Snowden’s revelations came as a surprise. Some concerned citizens have long understood that powerful digital technologies can be abused to carve away at civil liberties.
I created this Op-Doc with excerpts from interviews that I filmed for an ongoing documentary about the programmer and online activist Aaron Swartz, who was concerned about surveillance issues long before Mr. Snowden’s disclosures. This short film addresses the most common arguments I’ve heard from people who are not concerned about online surveillance, such as: “I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care?” and “We need this to keep us safe.”
The Internet has placed all of us firmly in a new and insecure world. Simultaneously, a perpetual “war on terror” has infused within that world a culture of fear and anxiety, along with surveillance policies that will have long-lasting implications. Now is the moment for a course correction, where civil liberties are written not just into our laws but also into our computer code.
Edward Snowden has ignited a debate, and for that I am grateful. But now that he’s done his part, it’s time for all Americans to decide how to respond to his revelations. That is to say, it is no longer his story. It is ours.
Brian Knappenberger is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker whose documentaries include “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists.”