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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Government Surveillance [ft. Edward Snowden] (youtube.com)
494 points by XioNoX on Apr 6, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments



Communication: this is where john oliver is amazing. Rather than talk about all the complexities of the secret NSA programs. He simplified the entire scandal into "NSA can see your dick pics. Stop them now".

This episode is a big lesson in communication for startups.


The number of people that praise John Oliver for dumbing down the issue amazes me.

Dumbing down complex social and political issues is a communication strategy that will always see populists and extremists as winners.

This is how we got here in the first place. The words "War on Terror" are the ultimate dumbing down of international politics.

This is so easy to counter ("NSA can prevent another 9/11", "Government can trace pedophiles" etcetera) by the other side it's laughable. This is just playing into their hands.


> Dumbing down complex social and political issues is a communication strategy that will always see populists and extremists as winners.

And this is how you get ordinary people to begin to understand why this is an issue and why they should be concerned. Sure, you could let them drink from the firehose, but the decisions they reach would be even more uniformed or as it is now, ignored.

You give simplified information and let the curious among the previously uninformed do their own research to reach some version of The Truth.

Is it a perfect solution? Not even close. But that's not the world we live in or are surrounded by.

John Oliver is not wrong when he says "We don't fundamentally understand it." Maybe you do. Maybe someone else does. I know firsthand that I vaguely understand parts of it.

The problem that Snowden revealed is going to take years, maybe decades, to fully digest and society is going to be everchanging during that time. Prepare to be eternally frustrated if you ever thought there was going to be quick and decisive action on our problems with internal spying.

("Internal spying" doesn't even begin to cover what he revealed. It is the simplest term I can come up with at the moment. That, in and of itself, reveals the hidden depths of this issue. What the hell do you even call it.)


The way to get "ordinary people" (and I think we're using a very low value of "ordinary" here) to understand anything is education.

Education is the primary battlefield. Fuck, education is the only relevant battlefield. And yes, it's a long drawn out battle which is fought over generations, not via soundbites on a comedy show.

The other side understands this, so they have put decades worth of effort into undermining the education of ordinary people.

We used to understand this, as education for the people used to be a primary goal of progressive politics. (And yes, this is about progressive versus conservative, it always has been, no matter how warped these things have become.)

What Oliver does is entertainment, nothing more. It doesn't change anything, not in the long run. And while we're rejoicing in the fact the Oliver scored a very, very minor victory, the other side is already working on the next step in keeping the people as uninformed and uneducated as possible.

(Also, the only reason shows like that of Oliver are such a big deal these days because they've pretty much managed to kill off any form of critical mainstream journalism that could inform and educate the people. The "success" of John Oliver is a symptom of our defeat.)


> What Oliver does is entertainment, nothing more. It doesn't change anything, not in the long run.

No, what Oliver does is propaganda, and propaganda often changes things in lasting ways. I understand and (to some extent) share your philosophical aversion to it, but ignoring its utility is wrong-headed, whether you agree or disagree with its message.

I think what you're talking about with the education system might also be propaganda, just not of the media variety. It's worth noting that historically successful propagandists used (and use) both varieties heavily.

Edit: Soften language a bit.


>>yes, this is about progressive versus conservative, it always has been

I could not disagree more. This 2 axial look at politics is very short sighted, the real battle is Authoritarian vs Libertarian not left vs right..

I personally am a Left libertarian, leaning towards Geolibertarianism and/or Agorism

There are people on the left that are very very Authoritarian that love programs like the NSA for different reasons than the Traditional Conservative Authoritarian reasons.


Who is the 'other side' and 'they'?

Edit: completely agree with your bigger point but wanted to know who you had in mind as the other side


I hope that there is no other side. At least none that is premeditating actions like "keeping ordinary people stupid".


> The problem that Snowden revealed is going to take years, maybe decades, to fully digest and society is going to be everchanging during that time. Prepare to be eternally frustrated if you ever thought there was going to be quick and decisive action on our problems with internal spying.

I'll gladly pay the price of "eternal frustration" over having to sit back, wait it out, and not make a giant big stink out of it.

If "we the people only care about dickpics" is somehow an illustrative reason for the expectation of this taking decades (??) to fix, then that is on the American people, not on the nature of this problem. Sorry but that is yet another lie that is apparently fed to the slightly-more-informed: "but but it's really really difficult and going to take a long time"--how is that anything other than yet another call-to-inaction, but worded to appeal to a different target audience?

> What the hell do you even call it.

Corruption. Your politicians don't even seem to lose their jobs over it any more. And people talk about it as if it's a status quo, not some gross failure that needs to be eradicated swiftly and immediately.


Corruption is too simple a term for what's going on. In part, because portions of all of those programs are useful for spying on foreigners (which was apparently the original intent) and legal (for which a whole raft of laws need to be changed while we reform the other process).

See, non-American dickpics are perfectly fine to collect and may be useful intel or leverage or whatever in the future. I have no problem with that - collect all the information on people outside the US, be they friend or enemy or even frenemy, that is wanted or needed. Just don't go looking at or collecting American dickpics.

If you have a problem with that, you were born and live in the wrong country.

And dickpics is a useful illustration, because people can understand that. So, if they think "Shit, they can see my dickpics? What else can they get?" then the illustration will have done it's job and we can move on to the next step.

* by dickpics, I mean intelligence.


The "NSA can prevent another 9/11" line will be used against both "dumb-ed down" and "smart-ed up" rhetoric to the same degree of effectiveness with the common American public. Speaking exclusively in terms only understood by people who've experienced a topic's college courses, books, or daily reading habit of relevant blogs isn't any more immune to authoritarian bumper-sticker politics.

John Oliver didn't take away anyone's nuanced and detailed arguments against the surveillance state. He translated them for people who probably aren't going to understand or care otherwise, which only adds to the public discourse.

And using an example of a single document (the photo of John Oliver's genitals) to have Ed Snowden explain how each of the revealed NSA programs relates to it is just good communication and not an oversimplification at all.


1) NSA can access your communication. 2) Your dick pic communication is communication. Hence, NSA can access your dick pic communication. This is perfect syllogism.

Sure, the conclusion is laughably dumber than proposition 1). But I won't call it "dumbing down" unless some intentional oversimplification is involved to the point of making the argument flawed.


There is communication to defend an argument, and there is communication to raise awareness and make your discussion important.

"War on Terror" managed to be the best headline material of all topics for years. No other topic in discourse was so crisp, so clear to communicate. As a result, the discourse became "Do we fight terror or not?". It masked all other topics.

If all we want to take away from this episode is a lesson on marketing, it's how to make yourself heard at all, when you're just starting out. So yeah, for startups it's indeed a good idea to claim extremist points. It can pay off to stir up some dust, and clear your point once it settles. This can get you much further than an honest but mellow statement.


> This is so easy to counter ("NSA can prevent another 9/11", "Government can trace pedophiles" etcetera) by the other side it's laughable.

No, this is actually an argument that can stand up to those arguments. All the technical and fundamental arguments of why privacy matters only apply vaguely and indirectly to the people. As Oliver says, people just don't care. Why do they care about another 9/11 or pedophiles? Because those things do affect them directly, as does the idea of the government having access to your dick picks.

If this argument were so easy to counter, why would this argument have such a clear dramatic influence on peoples opinions on governmental intelligence operations? Alternatively, which argument would you bring up that would easily counter "NSA can prevent another 9/11"? I don't think that's so easy.


Or playing out of their hands.


So it's effective, is what you're saying?

Mob rule is dumb, unfortunately. It's the nature of the beast.


This amazes me, but it saddens me more.

On the one hand, I applaud the brilliance of John Oliver for presenting the NSA affair in an immediately alarming way and attracting the attention of the average people.

On the other hand, people really have to think rationally and responsibly to tackle serious political issues. John Oliver is not going to work every time, and sometimes we don't have a John Oliver at all.

I am deeply depressed by the political ignorance of the common people in the US. I have always assumed that political ignorance stems from political oppression, which seems to be case in China (which is my home country). But now it seems to be a consequence of universal human stupidity instead.


I think that people are ignorant, because why wouldn't they be? They have zero individual influence, 99% of things the government talks about openly is irrelevant bullshit and part of shaping the voter's sympathy. So basically if it doesn't influence your daily life and you have zero control over it, why should you care?

So it doesn't seem surprising at all that people in modern democracies are ignorant of most of the politics. I think that many in tech, who are acutely aware of the significance of the NSA affair, care about it not because of politics, but because it's wrong and hurts people.


> So basically if it doesn't influence your daily life and you have zero control over it, why should you care?

I cannot really argue against this pessimistic picture of democracy.

> I think that many in tech, who are acutely aware of the significance of the NSA affair, care about it not because of politics, but because it's wrong and hurts people.

Your definition of politics is very weird to me. Since preventing wrong things that happen on a big scale fits perfectly into my definition of political activities (think about the American civil rights movement).


>> So basically if it doesn't influence your daily life and you have zero control over it, why should you care?

> I cannot really argue against this pessimistic picture of democracy.

I on the other hand don't see a different way. It seems to me that if you really want to change something for the better, you need to steer clear of any kind of politics. It's like a swamp or quicksand; if you enter it, you'll get stuck there.

> Your definition of politics is very weird to me. Since preventing wrong things that happen on a big scale fits perfectly into my definition of political activities (think about the American civil rights movement).

My working definition of politics here is anything that involves politicians and especially political parties, because anything they touch immediately gets corrupted and turned into a way for said officials to safeguard their careers. You may say I'm cynical, but that's what I see all around, living in a democracy. I admit there may be a better word than "politics" for what I'm talking about, but I can't find it now.


People who claim they want to "avoid politics" tend to create the most toxic political situations around them. You "avoid politics" by generally becoming a despot.


What you call politics I might call partisanship to differentiate it from a broader sense of politics.


There also may be a better word than "democracy" for what you're talking about ;)


"Deadlocked two-party rule with <that particular US election system where it sometimes hardly matters what you vote just because of where you live>"

You know how, if you question people about democracy enough, after a bit they'll usually admit that "okay it's not optimal, but it's the best we got / came up with so far".

That means you can fuck it up. It means you can do democracy badly. It means that just because it is technically a "democracy", doesn't mean it's working properly.


The claim was about political ignorance of common people in the US. You extended that to "people in modern democracies". I think this is incorrect.

In Canada, I find people are typically more politically aware if not involved, as compared to the US where I live now.


I wouldn't say people are inherently stupid. Rather they have become such by design or as the outcome of a system. There are many faces to this 'design' or 'system'- like capitalism, 'american dream' and such.


When people are using doublespeak to defend their position it is often helpful to use off colored shock statements to get your point across.


> On the other hand, people really have to think rationally and responsibly to tackle serious political issues.

While I agree with that, the limitation to that approach is that the rational part of the mind is not in control - it can at best guide emotion.

Daniel Kahneman has a great metaphor for this: think of the rational aspect of the mind as the rider of an elephant, and the emotional, intuitive part as this elephant[0]. Sure, under most circumstances the rider can guide the elephant, but the elephant can want different things than the rider. In a way the elephant is more important, because if it doesn't work along the rider is helpless. You need to get the elephants to calm down and get along before it's riders can even bother with having a conversation.

[0] Ignoring for a moment the issues with clear-cut boundaries like that, or the limitations of making sense of the mind in terms of two other minds.

EDIT: I left a comment earlier on reddit[1] that indirectly talks about this as well:

You have to realize he's not trying to reach out to people like you who already are aware of these issues and agree that something has to be done. He's trying to get the point across to people who are most likely to resist thinking about it, for all the wrong but understandable reasons.

Like with race, climate change, gender issues, religion, those who need this stuff to be explained to the most are also the most likely to resist, because they literally Can't Deal With It. It's called fragility[2]:

“a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

Replace "racial" in that quote with any sensitive issue you want, like "gender", "political" or "religious". Everyone has this to some degree, and the first thing to do if you want to have a healthy debate is become aware of everyone's point of fragility and somehow circumvent it so we can have a reasonable discussion. Even more so when trying to reach out to the people who suffer from this the most. It is really important we keep trying to do that, no matter how frustrating it can get, because the ignorance of even a few affects everyone in society, especially in a democracy.

It's a real problem and John Oliver even lampshades it, calling Snowden the IT guy in the office you don't want to learn from. He may appear to be shooting Snowden down, but what he's doing is approaching this from point of view of the many people with this mindset. He's acknowledging their experience (not to be confused with viewpoint) as a valid one, and trying to give them a way to connect to the topic regardless, with jokes and dick pics.

[1] http://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/31lqjh/edward_sno...

[2] http://www.alternet.org/culture/why-white-people-freak-out-w...


Ultimately, that argument doesn't work.

The people who can see your dick pics don't know you. You're just a nameless, faceless penis to them, and the people who might be looking at your dick picks are a nameless, faceless mass you don't know and never will know. Your dick pics are a statistic in a database. In fact, "people" probably don't even see your dick pics. A computer takes them and stashes them in a database, and the amount of data stored is so huge that the chance of any specific NSA employee running into your dick while querying the database is infinitesimal. Besides, even if the NSA wasn't involved, your ISP could see your dick pics anyway, and if you used any kind of image host to send your dick pics, so can they.

I would be much more concerned if the NSA was handing the information to people I know, but they're not. People only care about privacy when it personally affects them. For example, I'm transgender. While I'm out and proud now, that wasn't the case back when I was still living as a guy. It didn't worry me that the NSA had this information on me in a database somewhere, but I would have been very, very worried if somebody I knew personally were to discover that I'm trans (before I was ready to tell them, anyway).

Nobody cares that the NSA can see their dick pics. People might care if their friends and family can see their dick pics.

Oh, but then you might say "but... but the NSA is going to blackmail politicians by threatening to reveal their dick pics if they don't do what the NSA says". That's possible, but you don't need mass electronic surveillance to do that. J. Edgar Hoover did it back in the '60s, and he didn't use either the Internet or mass surveillance to do that. No, he targeted people he wanted to blackmail, and he had his team do some good old-fashioned detective work to dig up blackmail material on them. That the NSA can hypothetically do the same thing with mass Internet surveillance doesn't change anything one iota.


You've missed the entire point of the interview. It's not that they literally are looking at your dirty pictures or literally looking over your shoulder to see every mistake or misstep you have ever made. The point is to take the NSA stories and make them relate to the lives of the average person.

As John Oliver explained to Edward Snowden in the interview, the average person doesn't care about 'bulk mass surveillance' or 'collection of metadata on personal phone calls' because they only vaguely understand these things and they scantly care about these things. What people do care about is if others know or could know about their embarrassing moments or their flaws.

Additionally they aren't literally trying to say they will use your dirty pictures to blackmail you, this is just an extreme example of what they used by John Oliver to make the issue more accessible. What they will do is if you or someone you know or someone who you know knows is involved in an NSA investigation (which we know can be so broad that you could be under suspicion even if you have never and will never commit a crime in your life), you can be subject to an investigation so invasive and with so little procedural oversight that you would once be called a conspiracy theorist for saying that this was even possible.

For more insight into just how invasive this can be just go back to the video and listen to the overview of the programs that snowden revealed, then watch a demo of Palantir showing the use cases of their software: https://www.youtube.com/user/Palantir/videos


It didn't worry me that the NSA had this information on me in a database somewhere, but I would have been very, very worried if somebody I knew personally were to discover that I'm trans (before I was ready to tell them, anyway).

Wouldn't it worry you if being trans was outlawed, either explicitly or in-practice, and this database were used to locate and target you? It's happened multiple times in this country, even in the past century, with much less convenience than it can be done now: communists, equal-rights activists and other activists, Japanese citizens during WWII, and so on. What if a new AIDS-like STD shows up, and in today's fear-mongering political climate the government chooses to round-up and isolate anyone who may be a carrier based on their lifestyle, instead of focusing on treating people who are actually infected?

These things aren't likely, but they're definitely possible, since similar things have happened before. That's why the mass collection of data "just in case" is something we should all be concerned about.


I agree with you in general but disagree with this:

>That the NSA can hypothetically do the same thing with mass Internet surveillance doesn't change anything one iota.

The reality is that is is much easier to abuse these powers now than it was in Hoover's days. Think about it like this: Hoover was bootstrapping his blackmail, current leaders can do it with economies of scale.

So if the wrong person was elected or something happened to un-democratize our nation (don't think it can't happen) then there is a big juicy database that can be abused far far beyond anything anyone ever had in the history of census taking.


The same (purported) TL;DR-people that can't keep their attention-span for the actual thought-out reasons why Snowden did what he did and why it is important, also stopped listening halfway through your first sentence when they heard "people might be looking at your dick", eyes glazing over before you can even say "statistic in a database".


>"NSA can see your dick pics. Stop them now"

Which they can then blackmail you with should you ever decide to run for office or oppose them in any way. Much like how J. Edgar Hoover built secret files about politicians and celebrities which he allegedly used to influence them.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Edgar_Hoover


Except this argument has the exact opposite effect on anyone who already has conservative tendencies.

"Oh, I would never send a sexually explicit photo. Sounds like this only affects perverts and liberals. Carry on, NSA!"


Not really true. For some reason it seems instinctual to take nude pictures once you pass a threshold of trust and competence with technology. In my experience, this is pretty common across political strata -- insofar as the gap exists, it's more of a generational thing, where older people are less likely to be comfortable with technology, and therefore don't trust it with anything they want to keep private (these same people are usually nervous about online banking, etc., too).


I …flat out don't think this is true. Not sure how else to put it, but it is just outside my experience to correlate nude-picture-sending willingness with technology comfort. I don't really have theories on what it does correlate with – for instance I'm not willing to put it on a liberal/conservative spectrum – but I just don't think comfort with technology is the thing.

Of course neither of us really know, because only the NSA has the data :)


Luckily I didn't last till that part. You can use simple language without being vulgar or coarse. An entertainer can afford it, a startup probably can't.


I think you missed the point, but there's an interesting point here: you are not necessarily your own audience. Clearly coarseness is a bad strategy to reach you, personally, but that doesn't mean it's a bad strategy to reach your target audience. You should speak the language of your target audience – in John Oliver's case, the people who enjoy his (frequently coarse) style of humor – rather than your own. Edward Snowden has largely been trying to explain things in a way that people like himself connect with – and that has actually worked pretty well, viz. nobody on this site would fail the "who is he and what did he do" test – but most people aren't like himself.


That's my point - an entertainer usually has an audience centered around their personality and it's derivatives. As a startup your audience is much more vague, often almost everyone. And when you do have an audience it's probably centered around something different.


I totally disagree that a startup's audience is more vague! If you're attempting to reach everyone then you probably aren't reaching anyone. Or do you mean post-traction "startups" who are trying to grow outwards from a smaller audience they have already won? If so, I suppose I agree with you, but I think the term "startup" is pretty dubious (though still widespread) in those cases.


I, for one, am glad I never sent anyone any d* pics. I'm probably already a source of laughter in some government agency.

OK, maybe a mild chuckles.

Hopefully, not a grimace or a scowl.


I have to say, I was fairly suprised of the way the interview was conducted. It was somewhat refreshing to see not the same questions being asked all over and over again. I think Mr. Oliver & his team picked very well what the average Joe does care about. Very well done!


I really wish the idea pushed that bulk collection allows the military intelligence orgs to blackmail every single member of the executive and judicial branch: every federal judge's extramarital affair, every congressperson' drug habit or undisclosed political ties, every bribe- none of the counter forces of checks and balances apply anymore.

It's not about your dick pics. It's about the district court's inbox's underage titty pics.

The only people who can stop it are also subject to its destructive impact.


J. Edgar Hoover did this back in the '60s.

This is nothing new, doesn't require modern technology, and doesn't even require mass surveillance (Hoover targeted specific individuals for gathering blackmail material).


It isn't even about that. It is that the completely clean guy who is standing for integrity who gets told 'either you do as we say or we will convince the world you are a child molester, and trust us, we can plant all the evidence we want where ever we need to'.


Which has nothing to do with surveillance.

If you're going to flat out lie and make stuff up then you quite literally do not need to do any surveillance.

John Kerry's war record being tarnished was done openly, publicly, and without any involvement of the NSA (which would have been useless to the cause anyway).


That's not an argument against mass surveillance. Collecting evidence you are a child molestor, aka lying and saying you did, only requires targeted surveillance.


I have to agree. With the mass information dump everyday from news outlets, it's sometimes hard to put it into the perspective of "how does this affect me?".

Using 'dick pics' to engage the audience was priceless!


Unfortunately it's actually more common to never take a picture of your dick. If anything most people watching will think, "I don't take pictures of my dick, so I'm safe", which is the exact opposite of what you want people to think.


But they will surely understand that if they're able to obtain and see your dick pics, they are also able to see all the other pictures your take and send via email and so forth.

Most people don't take dick pics, but almost everyone take photos of other occasions which they might not like others to see, like their children running naked in the garden, your wife sun bathing or just the random social occasion that are no others business but yours and whom ever you deliberately choose to share it with.


Which again buries the entire issue because if we're going to ask "who can see pictures you share with people without encryption" then the question goes a good deal further then "oh my god the government!"

Quite literally any sysadmin at your ISP can see that material, and might see that material in the course of normal work. If you posed this to an "average" person they also haven't realized this. They also don't realize Dropbox is unencrypted. Neither are your bank records - not from your banker or the random support person you're calling.

If we're on a role they might then be inclined to wonder why everyone in their life isn't constantly trying to blackmail them with all the information they could easily get all the time. And then eventually, we'd loop around to the obvious realization: because it would be illegal for them to actually use any of that information they obtained in confidence. And so on the vast vast scale of modern society, they don't.

At which point you have a problem: the NSA doesn't actually randomly start posting stuff it collects on the internet. In fact people barely know what it does because it doesn't impact them. Because government thugs aren't kicking down doors of political dissidents, or doing any of the "totalitarian" stuff they expect.

After this entire thought exercise, the average person might conclude they should stop emailing dick pics around if they don't want their ISP to see them. But then they'd also realize that's probably nothing to worry about from the NSA either. And by and large, they'd be right.


> They also don't realize Dropbox is unencrypted.

This set off my alarm bells at the broad statement - I checked, and Dropbox is encrypted, in that any uploads to and from the server are via SSL. This is probably 80 of what anyone cares about.

It's like saying your online banking isn't encrypted because the bank can still read your balance.


No, Dropbox is not encrypted on the server, which is the point the parent was trying to make. Theoretically, any Dropbox employee can look at any unencrypted dick pics that you decided to store on their servers, much like how your ISP can see any of your unencrypted web browsing.


Oh God the part at 7:55 where people describe Edward Snowden as selling information, "that shouldn't have been revealed," I had to stop watching for a second.

Poor guy. It's one thing for people to disapprove of what he did for the right reasons. But for people to think of him as a traitor for the wrong ones, that's another entirely.

That was hard to watch.

EDIT: Oh no he's showing it to him.. John's facial expression at 23.08 says it all. I almost can't watch this.


>That was hard to watch.

I agree. I had to turn it off and come back to it. The level of ignorance from that random public sampling was utterly terrifying. I cannot imagine what kind of bubble those people are living in that they have seemingly totally avoided even the most basic of information pertaining to such a, or what should be a, massive scandal in American public life.

It was enlightening, depressing and frustrating all bundle into one. It's no wonder nothing is coming of these leaks when you've an apparently massive amount of people who are totally disengaged with what is going on in their country, a heap of people apathetic about it, another heap of people in support of it and a sliver of people outraged but who feel totally powerless to do anything about it.

Similarly it's no surprise that many feel totally powerless when they're surrounded by these other groups.

While I feel Oliver somewhat trivialised the issue, he did make it far more approachable as a topic in doing so. Will this trigger a larger discussion on the issue? I do not know, but I'd be willing to bet that even in the face of proof of these activities, a large proportion of the population would still reject it and toe the government line.


But look at the smile when he sees them caring about dick pics!


I loved how quickly he caught on to Oliver's point. I imagine a follow-on effect of the interview may be a renewed appraisal of how he presents his arguments on Snowden's part. Not dick-pics per se, but connecting better with why the average person should care.


I find it very interesting that Snowden explicitly confirmed that when the NSA says they only capture "foreign" data, they are considering the endpoints of the wires that transport any given packet, not the humans that generate/receive that packets.

The NSA has a lot of people focused on "metadata" of the endpoints only, and not the entire path the data actually follows that is generally not something the leaves of the network can control. Snowden mentioned moving data to different locations (probably remote mirrors/backups) as one of the places data is captured. The NSA can probably capture any data they want by simply poisoning a few BGP[1] routes so the data they want is routed internationally.

[1] pick your favorite method of rerouting traffic; BGP is just one obvious example


I don't think anyone is surprised at this point that they interpret their mission as broadly as they can possibly justify. The NSA are singlehandedly tearing down the stereotypes of lazy government workers.


I transcribed the important part of the interview and put it up here with links to relevant info about each of the Patriot Act sections and NSA programs mentioned: http://cantheyseemydick.com


Awesome! I'm sharing this in my social circles.

One thing though: could you make it more clear those paragraphs are Snowden's words?


John Oliver shows why we can't rely on surveys to show whether people support mass surveillance or not. Most don't even seem to know who Snowden is, let alone understand what the government is actually doing. At best most of their minds are made up by what they see on TV (where the networks hardly did Snowden and his revelations any justice).

Also, relevant:

https://www.emptywheel.net/2015/04/04/section-215s-multiple-...

It's very likely that even if the government "backs down" on some surveillance programs from the Patriot Act, they will try to replicate them in other bills, such as CISA or other future ones. They've done that before, too. So we need to be very vigilant about it.



Also, if you are outside of the USA, you're pretty much fucked as the NSA sees everything you do, including the dicks and vaginas of all 7 billion non-US citizens. And there is also no chance of that ever changing, since no foreign surveillance program hasn't even entered any debate.

So from here, the non-united states to you, dear US reader: here's 7 billion people pointing their fingers at you, you peeping toms, you creeps.


Thanks for the link. I just wished I'd known this website before as I had to resort to other means to view this interview.


I think this is most interesting not so much as a Snowden interview or John Oliver clip, but a highlighting of the delta between the mainstream and people who have a particular interest in this topic. It's easy to forget just how big that delta is.


I think it is pretty much down to what sort of media is reaching these population. The perfect example is the one John Oliver is giving earlier on in the show where a serious interview is being cut off by a live news report on Bieber's misconduct in public.


I feel like John Oliver is the first journalist who gave a somewhat balanced view of Snowden. That being said I don't really read the news all that much.


Agreed. And sadly I do believe more Americans (or people in general) would know who Snowden is if his revelations were conveyed in terms of dick pics.


Unfortunately, the majority of the population is uninformed through their own doing. It's much easier to tune out boring technical debates when your beliefs are being challenged.

The majority of the people in the Time Square interviews believed that the information was "not supposed to be leaked", or it was in some way the morally wrong thing to do, without knowing any further information.

While the morality of Snowden's leaks is a flexible topic, it just goes to show that the American people do not actively care about this topic.

I did love the rephrasing in terms of nudes which Oliver and his team did, but it's one step too short of actually producing meaningful change. This type of conversation, again, can be tuned out, it lacks the conviction required to affect more people.

Nonetheless, it was hilarious, I just wanted more from it.


The idea that people are uninformed is a toxic attitude to this whole issue. Threads like these are full of 'sheeple' statements. Counter points or arguments are aggressively down voted and anyone who doesn't share the exact point of view of a poster is tacitley insulted as being uninformed.

A conversation requires both parties to be willing to listen, and it also requires some perception that ideas and concepts are actually up for debate.

That's not going to happen so long as people who claim to think this is important refuse to try and understand any of the broader dynamics of it.


The people in the Times Square interviews (from the linked video) are literally uninformed. It's not an attitude to say so.

Much of the segment is spent illustrating that people do care about the dynamics of the issue, but that they don't understand the details.


They're clearly more misinformed than uninformed. They were making accusations and holding a low opinion of Snowden, not abstaining completely.

This idea that it's not even worth fighting back is extremely toxic.


That is funny, in a way, because that is exactly the behaviour described by Susan Cain in a society that over estimate the value of bold assertion from extrovert character trait. So those misinformed are making statement on their own mental the assumption that conceding their ignorance will make them look weak. At least that is my reading.


Yes, the discussion can and often will turn into an echo chamber of the same argument. I have seen this happen many times as well as been a part of it without realizing.

However, I would like to know what counter points to my comment you are referencing so a more dynamic discussion can be formed.

It's one thing to say that the conversation is one sided and lacking logical diversity, and another to explore counter arguments.


I'm not actually sure that Oliver's premise is correct, that people would be substantially more outraged if they understood their nudes were being seen by the NSA. In fact, we've had this exact debate before re: body scanners in airports. In those cases, people make the connection: while it's obviously preferable to retain that privacy, if the very serious and important trained agents need to do this to stop their plane from blowing up, they're OK with a little bit of exposure.

Really this all turns on the degree to which the individual believes the government usually acts within the interest of the population. If you think the government is a good institution and that they are honestly just interested in national security, you'll accept your "dick pics" becoming collateral damage. If you believe that the government or one of its [former] operatives may use that information against you one day, you won't.


I'm not sure why Snowden feels vindicated due to the story not going in and out of the news cycle quickly. The average person does not care, something evident from the complete lack of constant mass protests nationwide (to give an example). On the flip side, Oliver is correct, we can't have the necessary conversations if no one really understands what happened, and the scope of it.


> average person does not care, something evident from the complete lack of constant mass protests

That's a pretty high bar for "care".


Touché, though I would say it is the most effective way to show disagreement.


Yes, it is extremely important to note that the majority doesn't care. That also means that there is no way to reign in the NSA by democratic means. But at least the issue is in the open now.

Well, some people may say that U.S. citizens are brainwashed by their media. But that is not true. They choose to listen to the media they listen to, they often pay for it in some form.

There was tons of media coverage about Snowden's revelations, but people chose to ignore it and chose to forget most about it.


I am a huge fan of John Oliver. I would love to see him deal with EU issues as well, but I know that's not possible since his audience is US based.


Are you familiar with his podcast The Bugle? It's a (mostly) weekly, 30-minute satirical news podcast that he does with another English comedian, Andy Zaltzman. They cover European issues in most episodes.

http://soundcloud.com/the-bugle

Archive of older episodes: http://gamesplusone.com/thebugle


Nope! Thanks!!! You gave something other than tech and philosophy to listen while running! Thanks!


Thank you! I only know Zaltzman for his cricket comedy. This is great, their styles match each other well.


He has done. For example, the Scottish Referendum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YkLPxQp_y0

Though sadly not as often (for the reason you cited).


Yes, the Scottish referendum was a subject I was watching closely. J. Oliver's comments were real gold, the fact that he is British added an extra flavor to the commentary :-)


The Bugle Podcast is all you need to know. You may have to put up with poor-quality phone lines in some episodes, but John and Andy take apart plenty of UK issues in their Friday issue of "an audio newspaper for a visual world".


Just imagine a high-pitched British voice calling everything "fucking horrifying" while tossing in random internet references every 5 minutes.


What the disinterest comes down to is "show, don't tell". Snowden told everyone that the government is spying on them. Oliver is trying to make that more tangible by telling everyone "You know they've seen your dick, right?" The interesting thing here is that Snowden could've affected real change if he actually leaked a section of the corpus of data the NSA had collected.

Last year's celebrity nude scandal was characterized as "sexual abuse" against the people whose photos got published. What kind of impact would've been made if an equivalent dump of "normal" people occurred? People hate revenge porn sites and anything that seems to indicate that nudes may be published without the consent of the depicted persons.

It's a very interesting question to ask: would the indiscriminate embarrassment and exposure caused by a leak of say, one day's worth of the NSA's collected data, be worth the awareness that leak would cause, and the changes it may or may not provoke? Would that not be the most fair way to judge whether the NSA's collection of that data is really warranted? Snowden says he's all about letting the people judge for themselves, but as Oliver notes, he made a series of disclosures that require a significant technical background to fully grasp (perhaps part of his partnership with Greenwald et al was based around the hope that they could further personalize the story). Wouldn't his purpose have ultimately been better served by taking and publishing a raw chunk of the sampled data?


For those in the United Kingdom (where this video is blocked) you can see the interview part here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykfGWcmUbbk


his videos are only blocked until they air on HBO in the US, so in a day or so they should be available in the UK


Snowden interview starts at 15:55 - https://youtu.be/XEVlyP4_11M?t=15m55s


With this section 215 and myriad others like PRISM, Upstream - my question is why? Surely the overheads for looking at every single thing are so costly it borders on inefficient? I understand the 'deputising' of Facebook, Google ect. But why do governments want all this data? Is it as Snowden puts, '[to have] a gun over our head.'? That idea makes sense to me, if someone falls out of line the people in power have sensitive information on them and can steer the wayward back to the core ideology?


The government wants this data in order to maintain control over a population of millions of people whose democracy prohibits the authoritarian spying and oppression which can be found in Russia or China.

It allows the United States government to exploit weaknesses in individuals or the entire population when they have so much information.

The only question which is critical to consider is why a person should care if you they "nothing to hide". Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who was first contacted by Snowden, gave a TED Talk on the topic http://www.ted.com/talks/glenn_greenwald_why_privacy_matters...

It answers your question better than I just did.


I don't think there is a conspiracy of control. I think the people involved in creating these programs are true believers who think they are making the world a better place.

The idea that it is being done to maintain control creates a nexus of evil, a boogeyman that is responsible for it all. The idea I propose, that the only thing behind it is basic human nature, is much scarier.


I think you are both wrong, and right.

The people in charge of these programs believe in the United States Government, not the nation, not the people not the constitution, but the government

They believe that Anyone that disagrees with the government at any level is the enemy and they must protect their government from that enemy even if those people are the citizens of that very nation they are suppose to serve.


Watching this video feels like attending a funeral together with a clown.


This interview was very cringeworthy. Snowden kept getting cut off and the entire thing was just totally disrespectful.


That was the point, they didn't want to idolize Snowden and even made some pretty hard accusations about him being responsible for inadvertent repercussions

That made the rest of the interview more believable and trustworthy. Fair, balanced and humorous

I agree that it's a fine line between simplifying a topic for "the general masses" and dumbing it down to something out of the movie Idiocracy. However, I think that Oliver has done a fair job of making it easier to relate to topics people otherwise wouldn't.

(He could use a touch less cursing to add some gravitas where needed, but that's a matter of personal taste I guess)


Here is Snowden... having dedicated and risked his life to help his fellow citizen, to have Oliver claim that Americans "don't give a shit" and that he is incompetent for passing on information to journalists that will publish un-redacted material. So Oliver is trying to be funny whilst fundamentally insulting his work and the freedom he has given up.


But I think that a dose of reality he's trying to inject both into the conversation and to Snowden himself. Because Snowden is living this, I'm sure he thinks he's made a bigger impact then he has. Because people like us care about these things, I'm sure we think he's made a bigger impact then he has.

I grew up in a lower to middle class town in New England, and virtually none of my peers I grew up with would know who Edward is either.

While thats not how I'd personally conduct the interview, I do think the first half of it was trying to deconstruct this idea that everyone is engaged and understand the debate, setting up the second half of the interview where he tries to get Snowden to explain things as simply and as direct as possible.

While I'd assume most of us on this board are tired of "It's like Uber for X", there's a reason that we use it, and it's because the "general public" "gets" it.


The actual notion that a lot of people don't understand this debate is a valid concern. I personally disagree with every method that Oliver took to try and convey this.


No, Oliver was not trying to be funny. Oliver was pointing out the truth as he observed it, and at the closing part of his interview offers a solution.

So yes, there was some very harsh criticism during the interview and it was difficult the watch, but it made the interview that much stronger and the solution offered that much more appealing.

It proves that Oliver is not your average 'funny-man' and dares to make part of his show uncomfortable just to establish a solid foundation of his interpretation and proposed solution.


Well he was actually trying to be funny. He is a comedian. This interview is for a "satire" show.


I thought that by joking with Snowden in the way that he did, Oliver was trying to humanize him.


I thought it was quite clever. Especially if you watch the pre-amble to interview, you can see he's trying to strip away some of the "sub-issues" to just hit at the main one.

Especially clear in the pre-amble, he's assembling a single "call to action". That the patriot act is due to be renewed at the beginning of June, and that given what we do know now, it could probably use a spring clean first.

He never actually makes that call on whether Snowden actually did the right thing or not. This is matches with the first few questions on the interview where he's surprisingly harsh on Snowden, on what he's shared with who, how, etc. This is perfect. At this point if you do agree with Snowden's actions, you're still here. But more importantly, if you don't, you haven't been alienated either. You've just seen John address some issues that most interviews have treated with kid gloves, and practically scold him for them.

Next, he discards the issue of foreign surveillance. This is where he seems quite rude, but Snowden quietly agrees with him - the general populace just doesn't care. To paraphrase NZ's prime minister, if your spies weren't spying on people you'd want to know why not. How much is appropriate, and how far spying on allies hurts foreign relations, is a really tough nut to crack - but more importantly, completely irrelevant to the discussion of the Patriot Act's upcoming renewal.

And then you reach the meat of the interview, if you'll excuse the pun, where - yes, there's some showmanship involved in getting people to pay attention, even if they're paying attention for the wrong reason. But essentially he strips away the hypotheticals, strips away the "if you've got nothing to hide", and lays it out. It's a bit more loud and crass than I expect from an Englishman, but we're having this conversation, so it worked.

He bookends the show with a simple idea - that if we can't discuss and address an issue as nice and clear as the Patriot Act being too over-reaching for 2015, then the other, smaller details have no chance. This is the context for the interview itself - simply trying to revive the conversation that we had 2 years ago, in time for it to be politically relevant.


Not sure your comment is a sarcasm. Oliver is not fundamentally insulting his work. He is trying to (or appearing to) insult his work while revealing how stupid average Americans are.


That's what you get when the only people left to do political and social commentary are the court jesters. Don't blame John Oliver for having two silly jokes per minute - this is how his brand of comedy is done.


I think John Oliver's producers are heroic.


anyone having problems with the video not available in their country should consider using https://proxtube.com/ browser extension (especially in Germany you can't live without, due to GEMA)


Video not available for Australia.


Video is indeed restricted for the UK and AU: http://polsy.org.uk/stuff/ytrestrict.cgi?ytid=XEVlyP4_11M

Other John Oliver videos are not restricted: http://polsy.org.uk/stuff/ytrestrict.cgi?ytid=uiN_-AEhTpk


This bothers me lot. Why would they block it for UK and AU ?


Another company owns the redistribution rights for the UK and the AU, and that company has decided not to allow it on YouTube until a point in the future.

IIRC from other YouTube comments, there's a 2 week delay.

Kind of stupid in a global era, but that's what big corporations do.


The show is on in the UK tonight; from what I remember previously, the videos are opened up for the UK from that point. Not the worst thing in the world, restricting YouTube videos until they've had a chance to show the full episode in said country. It's not like this is just a clip - it's a whole segment of the show.


It just feels like what footballer fan (soccer you,yanks) would feel if they had to wait over 24 hours to watch a world cup match .... most would just find another way to watch it.



You can thank Foxtel for that. First they stopped us getting Game of Thrones legitimately without Foxtel, now this. The Comedy Channel which they own 100% of purchased the rights to the show recently and so, it is only available on Foxtel.


magnet:?xt=urn:btih:db2335c3a02932c9fe6dd394a1bd84d4deb55437&dn=Last%20Week%20Tonight%20with%20John%20Oliver%20-%20Government%20Surveillance%20HBO.mp4

hope that helps.



Works fine in New Zealand ;)


try downloading it with youtube-dl, or use tor :)


samm-mbp ~/Desktop % youtube-dl https://www.youtube.com/watch\?v\=XEVlyP4_11M [youtube] XEVlyP4_11M: Downloading webpage [youtube] XEVlyP4_11M: Downloading video info webpage ERROR: XEVlyP4_11M: YouTube said: The uploader has not made this video available in your country.


Tor Browser to the rescue. Thanks.


Absolutely amazing,

Edward Snowden thought he was smart and by giving the 200,000K copies of important documents to so called "intelligent journalist". Doesn't solve anything...it kind of allows the NSA to plead for more money for security. Which we don't want!


Question for the Americans on this forum: What has the media coverage of Snowden actually been like in the US, then?

From the comments all over the web (not particularly HN), as well as John Oliver's "we didn't cherry-pick these" remark about those street "interviews", I got the idea that the Netherlands, the EU, or the rest of the world has seen a wholly different news-coverage of Edward Snowden than the USA.

For instance, this comment on Imgur really puzzled me: "Watched the whole interview after seeing the last image of it that was uploaded today. Dude seems nice. A little naive, but nice". That sounds as if the person who wrote this truly hadn't seen Snowden speak and/or explain his motives before today??

This guy's face has been all over the news for the past two years, and there have been numerous, in-depth interviews with Snowden, and live video appearances, that were in fact full of great soundbites suited perfectly for news coverage. And IMO, assuming one is remotely interested in a serious answer, some were in fact easier to understand than the few words Snowden got in between with John Oliver. Mainly because he got to finish his sentences and they asked sane questions (by which I don't mean the "Can they see our dicks?" question, that one may be crass, but it is actually an effective summary, in some sense).

Somehow it seems like this appearance on a comedy show, talking about dick pics, is actually the first time for a great many people to hear Snowden explain himself and the issues at hand (that have been at hand for the past two years).

I am very on the fence about this. Taken at face value, this interview was absolutely totally cringeworthy and awful. This guy gave up his life to bring the truth to light, he is a hero[0], I'm fairly sure that John Oliver sees and agrees with this, yet he shows him a pair of rubber testicles with stars-n-stripes pattern.

On the OTHER hand, maybe the question "But can they see our dicks?" really is the last question that can make Americans actually care about this subject matter, in which case John Oliver did a great thing, if it actually works, that is wonderful. And I cringe for your country.

Another nice mindtwister to think about: That folder, purportedly containing a "dickpic" of John Oliver. Two possibilities, which one is worse: Edward Snowden, man of Truth, exiled for life, in Russia, having to play along with a semi-scripted silly comedy sketch (you can see his discomfort) pretending there is a picture of John Oliver's penis in that folder. OR the alternative: John Oliver actually handing Edward "f-cking" Snowden a folder with an actual photograph of his naked penis.

(I'd probably have more respect for the latter, also fits better with these ridiculously Strange Times we live in. But I guess Snowden's facial expression would have been somewhat different)

[0] About the "traitor" part. A certain number of (corrupt) people in the USA might "honestly" feel betrayed by him, in an informed manner. But what he did is so much bigger than that, the rest of the world knows him as a hero.


Just curious: If you had been at time square would you have avoided his cameras?


This is one of the best things I have ever seen.


It was hilarious to watch.


This was excellent. Thank you for sharing.


Stop looking at my dick nsa.


John is brilliant.. but i wasnt very impressed with snowden, his mannerisms dont feel genuine.


You were not impressed by Snowden because frankly I believe Snowden was not prepared for John Oliver's style of sarcastic comedic interviewing.

John is correct on the fact that the average person does not take this seriously or is completely ignorant on the subject. Edward Snowden believes the topic of mass surveillance is a very serious one, as he should. John is acting like the normal person namely an immature moron that does not take this topic seriously at all...

Both are brilliant and John's commentary is a sad wakeup call to the intelligence of the average person in this country.

The fact that "Dick Pics" is the best way to get the public to understand the massive problem that is mass surveillance is both true and very very sad.


I wasn't very impressed with Einstein, his hairstyle does not look professional.


I feel like the interview was edited to make it seem that way. If you watch any of Snowden's other interviews and lectures, he's always very articulate and passionate about the subject.


It was edited that way in order to increase the comedic value.


Most people (non professionals) don't feel too comfortable in front of a camera.




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