In her acceptance speech Poitras said, “The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made, affecting all of us, are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control. Thank you to Edward Snowden, for his courage, and for the many other whistleblowers. I share this with Glenn Greenwald and other journalists who are exposing truth.”
The film documents Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency (NSA) leaks. Poitras went to Hong Kong to meet the stranger code-named Citizenfour in his emails. She filmed the meeting in real time as Edward revealed what he discovered and why he decided to tell the public. Citizenfour shows the NSA’s secret, illegal surveillance of millions of citizens in America and around the world.
The American Civil Liberties Union forwarded the following statement by Snowden: “When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honour and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”
Common Ground’s April 2014 edition featured an article entitled Take Back our Internet from NSA, based on Edward Snowden’s Prism TED Talk in Vancouver – a live Internet video from Russia streamed on March 18, 2014. An excerpt follows; the entire text is available at commonground.ca.
“The principles that have been the foundation of this project have been the public interest and the principles that underlie the journalistic establishment in the US and around the world. I think if the press is now saying we support this, this is something that needed to happen; that’s a powerful argument, but it’s not final. That’s something the public should decide. The government has hinted they want some kind of deal, a compromise deal to come back. But I want to make it very clear. I did not do this to be safe. I did this to do what was right. I won’t stop working in the public interest just to benefit myself.
“I would say the last year has been a reminder that democracy may die behind closed doors. We don’t have to give up privacy to have good government; we don’t have to give up liberty to have security. By working together, we can have open government and private lives. I look forward to working with everyone to see that happen.”
Now that Citizenfour has received an Oscar for its courageous truth-telling, it is our duty to watch it because the only safe place for democracy is in an informed citizenry.
As Common Ground’s March issue goes to press, Canada is locked in a fierce and rushed debate over surveillance of Canadians and the Harper Government’s anti-terrorism Bill C51. The proposed new law would give Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) sweeping new powers of surveillance, arrest and detention on the mere suspicion that a person “may” – rather than the standard “will” – commit a terrorist act. Four former prime ministers, various Supreme Court judges and constitutional and legal experts say such powers of arrest should only be given to the RCMP. As the media-hyped climate of fear about jihadist terrorism rises, Harper’s Conservative government is insisting that independent and parliamentary oversight of how the law is administered is not necessary. Yet four of the five “Five Eyes” nations – The UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand – have such oversight in place. The surveillance and harassing of environmental activists has already begun. Each one of us needs to get involved immediately to protect our civil rights and democracy.