Edward Snowden Live from Russia Addresses Privacy and Insights at NYC Screening

img_1308Is he a traitor or a patriot or possibly somewhere in between the two extremes? Just as the House Intelligence Committee was wrapping up a two-year investigation of Edward Snowden that called him a “serial exaggerator” who “caused tremendous damage to national security,” Snowden himself – live skyping from Russia – was promoting Oliver Stone’s new film, “Snowden,” based on his whistleblowing story. Stone was at the NYC theater, which broadcast Snowden’s interview to 800 theaters across North America, as were actors Joseph Gordon Levitt (who portrays Snowden in the film) and Shailene Woodley (who plays his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills). Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior executive and whistleblower, who was prosecuted in 2010 under the Espionage Act, was also present and received a standing ovation from the audience.

“The story represents when you believe in your principles,” Snowden began. “Privacy isn’t about something to hide, but something to protect. I hate hearing people say, ‘I don’t mind giving up my privacy; I have nothing to hide.’ But that’s like saying, ‘I don’t mind giving up free speech because I have nothing to say.’”

"Snowden" Cast and DirectorWhen asked what the best way people can do to protect themselves is to create password managers, encrypt communications (via downloading an app on your smart phone) and take additional precautions to avert NSA surveillance. “If you want to stop the NSA from spying on you, the best way to do that right now is perhaps the only way we can do that given the disparity of resources, is through the political process. This is something we’re not hearing enough about in this campaign season. Nobody’s talking about the Constitution, nobody’s talking about their rights, they’re all calling each other names, and I’m not sure that’s what we need right now. We need to be talking more about issues of substance.”

He further expounded on this when a 15-year-old submitted a question via Twitter about what could be done. “We need to act locally before globally,” Snowden responded. “We have the most influence on the officials closest to us.” He then remarked that if people are silent, it enables the government to get away with what they are doing.

Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone

“Snowden” is exceptionally crafted, and Stone’s storytelling brilliance is as sharp as ever. The film depicts Snowden’s evolution from serving in the US Army Special Forces to questioning the NSA’s surveillance (or as he puts it “dragnet on the whole world”). In the film, Snowden reveals that population surveillance is “not about terrorism; it’s about social and economic control. It’s only about protecting the supremacy of the US government.” Of course, there’s also the issue that he committed treason. Go soak in the film – the acting, storytelling and genius of Stone will inspire many conversations going forward.