Film & TV

Review – Citizenfour

You pay for something with card, your location can be found. You send a text, it can be read by a third party. You have a phone plugged in to a land line, it can be used to listen in on your conversations. All these ideas are explored to good effect in Citizenfour and it creates a sense of paranoia and tension throughout the documentary which remains with you for days after.

Laura Poitras delivers a highly informative, highly unsettling experience. Any documentary that keeps your attention for a run time at just under 2 hours and stays with you long after is certainly worth seeing. Yet it is what the documentary reveals to be happening right now which is truly mind-blowing.


Citizenfour explores a conspiracy that we all know and joke about but one that is revealed to be real. Why should you care? It’s not like a government employee sits at their computer and has a good laugh while reading your personal text messages. No, the real problem with this is the fear it creates. Having any sort of hesitation in what you say or write limits us intellectually. If we are limited as a result of our governments how is this true freedom?

Edward Snowden (with the help of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwood) released seven highly secret documents in June 2013 that showed how the National Security Agency (NSA) of America has been collecting data on everyone in the United States. Snowden provided evidence for a range of incriminating data hacks including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft to name just a few, as well as invasions into people’s privacy.

Snowden had been working in this world for at least a decade and had arrived at the point where he cannot stand being part of this conspiracy anymore. He was willing to reveal this information, despite the inevitable sacrifice of his own freedom.

All of this sounds like one of those big conspiracies that are fun to speculate but have no real importance. Yet here came the turning point for me.


Of course I want freedom and privacy, but I’ve never agreed with releasing secret documents that could be harmful to national security. After all, these data analysis systems were created in reaction to the events of 9/11 and are used to identify potential terrorists. In fact I’m sure they have already been used to save hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of lives.

However, Snowden acknowledges and realises what he is doing could be harmful to the people whose freedom he is trying to protect. His acknowledgement turns this from a simple attempt at 15 minutes of fame to an understanding of the sheer gravitas of what is at stake here.

As the documents are released so ensues the manhunt for Snowden. They don’t know who is causing these leaks and so he chooses to reveal himself. This is not done out of any egotism, he just doesn’t want to hide in the shadows. Snowden wants to make a statement about his own freedom to speak out about this sort of injustice. What seems like a questionable decision at first turns out to be the best course of action, as it ensures the attention remains on the issue and not on a prolonged man hunt.


So this is an American issue – why should the rest of the world care? I repeatedly asked myself this very question until it is revealed that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British security agency, is the most intrusive agency in the world. Make no mistake, this is a global issue.

In a true democracy people are free to do and say what they wish. In dictatorships people are monitored, in order to maintain control. I will not be so bold to say that we live in a type of dictatorship, yet the situation has frightening parallels to that of a dictatorship. The most frightening thing is that we wouldn’t even know if this information was being used to control us.

Make no mistake, this is a global issue.

The government agencies involved are not evil mustache twirling bad guys that must be stopped; the situation is far from being that black and white. They are ultimately trying to protect us from terrorism. But then we need to ask ourselves: Is a true democracy possible? Or to maintain security is there a level of control that is needed over us?

If any of these ideas are important to you or interest you, you need to see this documentary.


Glenn Tanner

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One Comment
  • SnowmanTheJimmy
    21 November 2014 at 16:30
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    “In fact I’m sure they have already been used to save hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of lives”

    That’s just plain wrong.
    Type “Inquiry about terror attacks stopped by NSA” in google and look at the results.
    You’ll see that at most the NSA prevented 8 attacks since 2001 and every one of those attacks would have been prevented without the bulk surveillance collection.
    So in effect, the loss of our privacy has enabled us to prevent absolutely nothing.
    Arguments are that more attacks would have been prevented (including the London bombing) if the NSA focused on targeted surveillance instead of collecting everything from everyone and then drowning under the mass of data that they don’t have time to analyze properly (and the false complacency that the fact of collecting everything may give them).

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