Monday, November 10, 2014

Snowden, Poitras, Citizenfour, Berlin

Citizenfour documentary by Poitras about Snowden


Mentions how established whistleblower hotline / reporting systems do not apply to contractors, only employees.


I speak to dozens of people after the [Citizenfour premiere] event, of all ages, and the more people I talk to, the more depressing it becomes; the more poignant Snowden’s appeal seems; the more unlikely and far-fetched this idea, of a groundswell of public opinion effecting political change, appears. From Jürgen Kleinig, a 44-year-old maker of investigative films from Berlin, who tells me “there have been no political consequences. None. It’s such a massive threat, to democracy, to everything, but nothing has changed.” To Ulrike Böhnisch, a 28-year-old documentary maker from Leipzig, who tells me how scary she finds it in theory. “But then I think who is going to be interested in my silly little love notes to my boyfriend? For ordinary small people with simple ordinary lives, I think it is not so much of an issue.”
But what if they are? What if somebody is interested? What if Ulrike decides, in 20 years’ time, to stand for parliament? What if Germany’s government changes? What if someone does read her silly little love notes? What if they don’t seem so silly – or so innocent – at some unknown point in the future?
It could happen because it has happened. Anne Roth, a political scientist who’s now a researcher on the German NSA inquiry, tells me perhaps the most chilling story. How she and her husband and their two children – then aged two and four – were caught in a “data mesh”. How an algorithm identified her husband, an academic sociologist who specialises in issues such as gentrification, as a terrorist suspect on the basis of seven words he’d used in various academic papers.
Seven words? “Identification was one. Framework was another. Marxist-Leninist was another, but you know he’s a sociologist… ” It was enough for them to be placed under surveillance for a year. And then, at dawn, one day in 2007, armed police burst into their Berlin home and arrested him on suspicion of carrying out terrorist attacks.
But what was the evidence, I say? And Roth tells me. “It was his metadata. It was who he called. It was the fact that he was a political activist. That he used encryption techniques – this was seen as highly suspicious. That sometimes he would go out and not take his cellphone with him… ”
He was freed three weeks later after an international outcry, but the episode has left its marks. “Even in the bathroom, I’d be wondering: is there a camera in here?”