Smile You’re on Candid Camera, Web, Phone, Social…

The Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 1977

“Grandmother, what big ears you have!”
“All the better to hear with, my child.”
“Grandmother, what big eyes you have!”
“All the better to see with, my child.

Little Red Riding Hood, by Charles Perrault

Oliver Stone’s new film about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will be hitting the screens this week. It is the first narrative feature to tackle the polarizing figure considered a hero by some and a traitor by others.

Back in a 2013 hearing, the then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress and swore under oath that the National Security Agency (NSA) was not collecting millions of private records of American citizens. A couple of years later, national security contractor Edward Snowden provided the evidence to the contrary and was forced to flee the U.S. after initiating that biggest government leak in U.S. history and sparking an ongoing debate about the role of government surveillance.

Whether or not we agree about mass surveillance the government shouldn’t have lied about it. Had Clapper just told the truth, then a debate could have ensued. The whole point of a democracy is; and what’s so great about the US and the western world is that the government is accountable to the people. For that reason alone, more and more people are grateful that Snowden did what he did.

Snowden’s explosive revelations have raised important questions about the role of government in protecting its citizens and the balance between national security and personal freedom. Some have claimed that Americans don’t care about the revelations that the NSA is conducting massive surveillance on our private communications. But Snowden demurs, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

In a TED Talk: “Why privacy matters”, Glenn Greenwald compares Jeremy Bentham’s 18th-century architectural design originally intended to be implemented in prisons that he called the Panopticon with the world Orwell is talking about in “1984”, a world in which people are not being watched all the time but one in which people could be watched at any moment.

The concept behind the Panopticon is to allow a single watchman to observe inmates of an institution without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly which would be the ultimate enforcer for obedience and compliance.”

panopticon-foucault

The Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 1977

The 20th-century French philosopher Michel Foucault proposed taking this concept one step further, using it not just in prisons but in any institution that seeks to control human behavior. Foucault reasoned that with this new means of societal control for modern societies there was no longer the need for overt weapons of tyranny — punishing or imprisoning or killing dissidents.

In the TED talk, Greenwald elaborates, “Mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a much more subtle though much more effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, much more effective than brute force could ever be,” adding that, “A society in which people can be monitored at all times is a society that breeds conformity and obedience and submission, which is why every tyrant, the most overt to the most subtle, craves that system. Conversely, even more importantly, it is a realm of privacy, the ability to go somewhere where we can think and reason and interact and speak without the judgmental eyes of others being cast upon us, in which creativity and exploration and dissent exclusively reside, and that is the reason why, when we allow a society to exist in which we’re subject to constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.”

In a video produced with the ACLU, Director Oliver Stone shared some of his reflections on the NSA spying program and the disastrous legacy of unchecked government abuse of power. He urged all Americans to stand up for their civil liberties at this critical moment in history by asking their representatives in Congress to roll back the surveillance state. Stone tells us, “This country was born in rebellion because the British government was exerting too much control over American lives. We broke free and began to create a system of government meant to protect liberty. Our national history reveals a constant struggle to stay true to this value. We face one of those moments of struggle right now. Recent leaks have given us a glimpse into our government’s gigantic surveillance machine. It’s a machine that is eating our freedom.”

Batman creates a mobile phone-based surveillance system through high-frequency sonar signals captured from millions of cell phones, allowing Batman the power to visualize the locations of criminals throughout the fictional city of Gotham.

Batman creates a mobile phone-based surveillance system through high-frequency sonar signals captured from millions of cell phones, allowing Batman the power to visualize the locations of criminals throughout the fictional city of Gotham.

There are systems of unaccountable power—some of them private, some of them governmental,” Noam Chomsky, an American linguist and political activist says regarding the growing commercialization of the internet. “They don’t care about democracy and have shaped and molded the system. Technology is neutral. It can be used for good or evil. It’s up to us to determine what the future holds.”

Mr. Chomsky’s concerns were the subject of the Bond film “Specter”, a delirious 007 adventure that sees Bond pitted against the global criminal organisation as he attempts to thwart their plan to launch a global surveillance network. Taking a stoutly pro-Snowden line against the creepy voyeur surveillance that undermines the rights of a free individual it is pure action mayhem where Bond finds himself battling a cocky new colleague who wishes to abolish the 00-programme in favour of a vast new multi-national computer-snooper programme. With a budget around $245 million, it is the most expensive Bond film and one of the most expensive films ever made.

Previously, a Snowden documentary by Laura Poitras with Glenn Greenwald called “CITIZENFOUR” won the 2015 Oscar for best documentary. Collecting the award, Poitras said: “The disclosures of Edward Snowden don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. When the decisions that rule us are taken in secret we lose the power to control and govern ourselves.” CITIZENFOUR chronicled the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that burgeoned into the wider NSA spying scandal. The Guardian and the Washington Post simultaneously began publishing Snowden’s leaked information in June 2013, with both publications winning a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for Public Service journalism.

In a documentary titled State of Surveillance, VICE founder Shane Smith heads to Moscow to meet with Edward Snowden and probe the depths of his particular area of expertise and to find out the government’s real capabilities, and whether any of us can truly protect our sensitive information. The full episode of VICE on HBO’s ‘State of Surveillance’ is available to stream for free on VICE News.

Zachary Quinto, Star Trek’s new Spock, who plays the role of Snowden’s contact, journalist Glenn Greenwald – advocated for Snowden’s return to the US, calling on the authorities to back down from prosecuting him. “I do think he should be able to come back. I think it’s a very complicated issue in terms of how that would happen,” Quinto told the Press Association at the film’s TIFF premiere in Toronto. “The idea of him being charged under the Espionage Act or branded as a treasonist is absurd. I think he is someone of great integrity and great courage.” He went on to say, “I think what he did is underestimated now, in a lot of ways, but I think will be looked back on with the magnitude it deserves.”

Edward SnowdenAs an addendum to this article which was originally published on Sep. 12, I am happy to report that on September 14, 2016 Bernie Sanders lead a chorus of prominent public figures calling for clemency, a plea agreement or, in several cases, a full pardon for the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Writing in the Guardian, Sanders argued that Snowden helped to educate the American public about how the NSA violated the constitutional rights of citizens with its mass surveillance program. Sanders also argued that there should be some form of resolution that would acknowledge both the “troubling revelations” that he had brought to light and the crime that he committed in doing so, that would “spare him a long prison sentence or permanent exile”.

Sanders joins 20 other prominent public figures – from Hollywood actors and rock musicians to politicians, professors and Black Lives Matter activists – who call on Barack Obama to find some way of allowing Snowden to return home to the US from exile in Russia. The Guardian’s voices are raised in the week that Oliver Stone’s film, Snowden, is released in the US and that a coalition of groups including the ACLU and Amnesty International launch a new campaign for a presidential pardon before Obama steps down.

Featured Art “Big Bugger” – Illustration By Alan B. Nagy

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