Citizenfour

Saw Citizenfour at Cinecenta Victoria last night. For those who have been living under the rock, it’s a documentary about Edward Snowden’s revelations about the massive NSA spying on its own citizens (and elsewhere). You can watch the official trailer here:

From film-making perspective, the film is so-so. I am not sure it deserves its Oscar nomination. I think it has more to do with the gravity of the subject and recognizing the filmmakers’ determination, rather than its cinematic qualities, which are somewhat mediocre. But it’s a documentary, so a lot can be forgiven.

From personal perspective, it’s a chilling story. Most of my friends know at least a bit about the story of me coming to Canada. This coming Monday will be 26 years since I made the decision that I no longer wanted to live in the totalitarian society communist Czechoslovakia was. This fall, it will be 25 years since I came to Canada, after a long (some say epic) escape from communism. And it’s been close to 20 years since I first heard “if you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back” (or something to that effect) as a response to my lamenting about the signs of totalitarianism slowly creeping into Canadian society. We hear similar arguments today, for different reasons, but the underlying cause is the same. Political correctness, special interest lobbying, loud minorities and small groups of extremists had our politicians shit their pants and be cowards. Their policy making has become reactionary, rather than visionary. As a result, western governments’ treatment of their own citizens is increasingly totalitarian in the name of collective security, and all people like myself can say (or think!) is: ‘I told you so.’ I saw this happening in the 1990s, but it really took off after 9/11.

You really need to see the film, and I am not going to give away any spoilers. But there is a key point that I would like to mention. One of the ideas expressed in the film is “privacy today is what liberty and freedom was yesterday”. If you think about it, it’s a profound statement. No need to re-tell the complex and long way to civic liberties in the West, I am sure… I think that liberty and freedom can not exist without privacy, and the thing that really scares me that we have very little privacy left, and from the look of things, it’s getting worse fast.

I am not some kind of Luddite who rejects technology. I love gadgets. I’ve worked in the IT industry all my professional life, and my recent work takes me to study in-depth network security and cryptography, both of which I enjoy tremendously. But it’s also a source for my worries. I have only scratched the surface of the vast and complex field that information security is, but I understand enough to see that our policy makers are ignorant, uninformed and misguided by an elite group of bureaucrats in the government security agencies. Like most lay people, our politicians don’t understand the technology and its capabilities, yet they make sweeping statements (like UK Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this week, calling for outlawing strong cryptography in the UK) about the government’s need to monitor citizens’ communications without proper due process. They are implementing policies and passing laws that aim to end citizens’ privacy once and for all (Canadian Bill C-13, anyone?)

I could probably go on forever, but I know people don’t read stuff longer than 140 characters… it’s the Twitter generation. Let’s just say that after 25 years in the West, my hopes to live in a free and open society are crushed. I am disappointed with the way our public institutions work, and I am extremely worried about the direction the western civilization is going.

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