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Surveillance and privacy: Hollywood’s new hot topics?

Films on Wikileaks and Edward Snowden are on their way to our screens, and a new documentary shines a light on surveillance online. Has Hollywood’s found its new hot topic? Emma Jones investigates.

If NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden hasn’t done enough to highlight the issue of government surveillance, then Hollywood is eager to finish the job. Just as the Iraq war led to a spate of filmmaking documenting the conflict, now the movie industry has a new hot topic to address – public privacy.

The story of Julian Assange’s Wikileaks revelations has been made into The Fifth Estate, a film starring Star Trek’s Benedict Cumberbatch. It will be released in the US this October – comfortably in time for awards season contention. Meanwhile, whatever happens to Snowden, his one assurance is that he will, sooner or later, be a movie star – his tale is expected to spark Hollywood’s most furious bidding war in years.The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who broke the news, has already secured a publishing deal for his memoirs .

But if Snowden, Assange and the secrets they exposed still seem remote to many, a documentary is also being released across the US this month that claims that every online search we make is being recorded, every Facebook status we post can be monitored – and this information can be kept in perpetuity. Californian journalist and filmmaker Cullen Hoback started work on Terms and Conditions May Apply a couple of years ago, because, he claims, public surveillance is “the greatest crisis of our times”.

“For hundreds of years we’ve worked towards the point where privacy is considered a fundamental right and that is now being taken away from us. The potential for misuse and what that can mean for the world is really damn frightening.” Exploring how the terms for using search engines like Google and social media sites like Facebook have changed in the wake of the Patriot Act following 9/11, 32-year-old Hoback argues that it is an ‘unfair trade’ to hand over in his words, “vast swathes of personal information”, in return for online access.

“When you use Facebook, you’re handing over images of yourself and the people you are with, and that information is stored. What if you happen to be pictured at a peaceful protest, say? So now both Facebook, and the government have access to information such as you being at a protest, who you were with and what you were protesting about.

“Laws change, and if that information is stored permanently it could be used to punish you in the future, for something you may or may not do, just like in the film Minority Report.”

On the doorstep

Case studies in Terms and Conditions May Apply describe how people, including a child, made throwaway comments on Facebook and Twitter – “looking forward to a drink before I go and destroy America!”,“Obama had better watch out now Osama Bin Laden is dead” – that brought the FBI and SWAT teams to their homes, and even to a school. More proof, Hoback claims, that social networking is under as much scrutiny by the US National Security Agency as the phone surveillance operation that Edward Snowden exposed.

“When I was making the film, I couldn’t say directly that the government has access to Facebook servers and while there may be some debate, as far as I am concerned, they do. These companies can’t say that they’re providing the government with access –it would be terrible PR.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made no official response to the new documentary’s claims, but after failing to secure an interview with the social networking site’s founder, Hoback surreptitiously recorded himself ‘doorstepping’ Zuckerberg outside his home – to give him, the director says, a taste of his own medicine.

“It was brave of Edward Snowden to come out and say these things,” he adds, “Because it’s only when it becomes personal to people – that their phone conversations are being tapped, that their social media information is being stored indefinitely and it’s legal – that it becomes real.”

Read full story on BBC News

Category: World News |

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Last updated March 25, 2017 at 5:40 PM
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