Edward Said wrote, “History is made by men and women, just as it can also be unmade and rewritten.”
The documentary CitizenFour is a rare glimpse into the history of the US surveillance state being “unmade” by Edward Snowden and three journalists who he agreed to meet in a hotel room in Hong Kong. Over eight days, Snowden talked the journalists through an uncounted number of leaked documents that exposed illegal mass surveillance schemes designed by the US National Security Agency and many of its allies across the world, which allowed them to snoop on almost every digital communication available. Within days the first stories appeared, setting off a chain reaction that would shake the US surveillance state to its very foundations.
It is story of how courageous acts of whistleblowing and an informed public can push back against injustice and abuse of power.
CitizenFour has a special relevance to South African audiences, given growing concerns of a local ‘rise of the securocrats’, and abuse of surveillance practices. Earlier this year, the Right2Know Campaign published a report on the surveillance of local activists and unionists. Several prominent investigative journalists have also found out their communications were being tapped by shadowy intelligence structures.
These events are unfolding at a time when the political space in South Africa is increasingly contested, and engaged citizens are realizing more than ever the importance of the right to privacy as a political freedom.
“Unlike a police truncheon or rubber bullet, surveillance leaves no bruises or broken bones, but it can be just as destructive.”