Edward Snowden: Media Villain and Film Hero

Edward Snowden during an interview. (youtube)

By Spencer Blohm

News surrounding privacy issues and government surveillance often comes with the name Edward Snowden, especially in recent years. As a former employee of NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden released thousands of classified NSA documents that revealed the government’s surveillance of practically the whole of America. Authorities quickly drove him into hiding once the extent of his disclosures became clear. Snowden’s flight from the American government ultimately led him to seek refuge as a guest of the Russian government in Moscow.

Unsurprisingly, Snowden’s story has become the topic of several major productions. Coming in September of this year is director Oliver Stone’s Snowden, a political thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden but what does this mean for the controversial whistleblower and those who know his story?

Since 2013, Snowden’s depiction in the media has been something of a litmus test in which many people are divided. To those who are more suspicious of government intentions, Snowden’s story is compelling and he may even be seen as somewhat of a hero. Many other onlookers find Snowden a criminal and a traitor. However, it’s important to note that the U.S. media has a history of celebrating whistleblowers for shedding light on the misdeeds of companies and government agencies since the days of Upton Sinclair and his works like The Jungle. The Espionage Act of 1917 made it illegal to convey any information that interfered with the armed forces or that promoted the U.S.’s enemy’s success. It is evident that Snowden violated this law but the majority of the people not in a position of power and who know and understand his story seem to paint him as a hero.

Snowden in film

The earliest attempt to convey Snowden’s story on film was a documentary called Citizenfour, which was directed by Laura Poitra. She was one of the first journalists to begin working with Snowden to disclose what he knew about the NSA surveillance programs. After Poitra started receiving emails from an anonymous sender who called himself Citizenfour, she journeyed to Hong Kong with fellow investigative journalist, Glenn Greenwald. They soon found out Citizenfour is Edward Snowden.

Citizenfour digs deep into the networked interests of big business and government, revealing the problematic practices of government surveillance. Since its release in 2014, Citizenfour has won multiple awards, and for good reason. The documentary sheds light on government secrets and justifies conspiracy paranoia. It is unsettling and concerning and Poitra does an excellent job of demonstrating how knowledge is a double-edged sword.

Slated to arrive in theaters in September 2016, a feature film simply titled, Snowden, will tell the story of the controversial former CIA employee. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring as Edward Snowden, the film is expected to be thrilling and gripping, while also filling in some of Snowden’s personal background.
In an age where technology is ubiquitous and anyone could be watching, Edward Snowden’s actions are an essential part of any conversation regarding the state of the modern world. Though his story is still incomplete, his actions have gained widespread news and, from some, respect. As we learn more about the escaped whistleblower, it’s important to pay attention to the technology around you or at least be aware that government surveillance is in practice. You never know who might be listening.

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