Non-fiction Weekend - Digital Dissidents

For our Non-fiction Weekend, Chris Smith blows the whistle on Digital Dissidents...

Like them or loathe them, Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon are icons of the post-9/11 world. In an age where terrorist outrages are all-too-common, the issue of national security is possibly one of the most pressing of the 21st century. However, what are our governments doing in our name to keep us safe and how much are they telling us?

Digital Dissidents looks at the history of whistleblowing and those who release sensitive documents in the name of preserving our freedom. Governments have arguably always monitored their citizens but their ability to do so and the scale that they are able to monitor us have grown to a frightening level in the past two decades. Nearly all of this is done in secret and - as leaks by Snowden and Assange have proven - often in violation of the law. But, as many people say, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

As interesting and concerning as the subject Digital Dissidents is, it's sadly lacking as a documentary. It's no where near as neutral as perhaps it might want to be and has to make do with recordings of Snowden rather than an interview. There are no counter viewpoints and few details of times where interception of electrical communication may have contributed to combatting terrorism. Digital Dissidents is, however, very good at painting intelligence organisations as laws-unto-themselves and the extent of their nefarious links to internet providers. There is an over-reliance on television-quality special effects and shots of Berlin along with rather poor cartoon caricatures of those featured.

What Digital Dissidents does well is present the risks of whistleblowing. Snowden is in exile in Russia while Assange remains hidden away in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Renowned analyst and former National Security Agency employee, Thomas Drake now works at an Apple Store in Washington DC having been able to find employment in his field. Drake in particular is still coming to terms with what he went through and a visit to a former Stasi prison in Germany leaves his visibly upset at the memories stirred up. Their lives have been all but ruined but yet none of them have any regrets about what they did. Their conviction, their belief in transparency and democracy cannot be doubted but that's all this documentary shows in any real detail.

If you're a supporter of whistleblowing, you can point to Digital Dissidents as proof you are right. If you see Snowden and his ilk as traitors, you won't hear anything that will change that. For everyone else, you might wonder if while you have nothing to hide, whether you should still be very afraid.

Image - (c) Matthias Paeper

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