Last night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the film Citizenfour with “Best Feature Documentary.” The film chronicles Edward Snowden’s leakage of classified NSA documents, which themselves detailed the extent to which the agency was conducting surveillance on private citizens. I haven’t seen it, though I’m sure it’s both a wonderful thriller and the most tangible results of Snowden’s work.
For as much a hullabaloo as was rightfully raised over the information Snowden made available to the public, not too much has changed. Europe may have collectively stricken down its metadata collection policy in light of the NSA scandal, but is that honestly enough? Debate on the subject has fallen out of vogue; frankly, the Oscars ceremony was the first time I had heard Snowden’s name in months. This isn’t his fault, of course. He tried to get people up in arms about illegal spying; he’s just been thwarted in his attempts either by apathy or circumstances.
Several months ago, Snowden asked Putin on live TV whether Russia had a surveillance program similar to the one that had been exposed in America. Putin flatly denied it and the incident was construed in the West as an example of Russian propaganda that Snowden was an active participant in. Edward published an op-ed in The Guardian as quickly as he could, writing that he meant his question in earnest and hoped to get Putin to admit to institutionalized surveillance, having apparently forgotten that Putin was literally in the KGB.
And some people seem to have taken Snowden’s message not to be that spying is wrong, but rather that spying is normal. Computer company Lenovo was very recently caught to have been installing third-party software on its computers that enabled outside parties to view one’s confidential information one had entered on webpages. The company’s motive in weakening security on their own devices is far from certain. The NSA can at least to claim to fight terrorism by collecting metadata from phones; there’s precisely zero good for excuses for a computer company to collect data from its users.
Snowden may very well have to spend the rest of his life in exile. That’s not a great prospect, but it’s much better than spending one’s life in exile with nothing to show for it. Right now, all he has a meaningless trophy dedicated to him in an acceptance speech. There was uproar when he first made his information public. People don’t seem to care anymore. Maybe the movie will respark debate over America’s policies. However, it seems more likely that it will simply solidify Snowden as nothing more than a cultural curiosity.