The Social Dilemma brings together former product directors and designers of Facebook, Google, Instagram, Pintrest, Twitter, and so on, to reflect on their creations and face questions about the age of addiction, information manipulation, and algorithmic social control they’ve ushered in. The creators speak openly about how they themselves took part in this co-optation of society, either naively or with malignant indifference, by designing websites in such a way to influence and manipulate billions of people for corporate interests by using deep psychological and addictive triggers in the human mind. Detailed explanations about how this can play out in the real world are illustrated through dramatisations, which are also expanded upon by experts in psychology, technology, and social studies. The result is a sobering call for emergency damage control, to undo the massive harm that technology companies have unleashed on society unrestrained for the past several decades, at a time of rapid social unravelling.
In 2018, Professor Shoshana Zuboff published The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, a monumental book about the new global economy, where the biggest technology corporations extract, manipulate, and trade our personal information, data about our lives, and data about our personalities, on a scale never before possible. How did this happen? In The Big Data Robbery, Zuboff starts with the volatile dot-com boom and bust of the late 1990s and 2000s. How did Google, a company created during that time, survive the bursting of the Internet bubble? Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin discover that the “residual data” that people leave behind in their searches on the Internet is very precious and tradable, and begin as one corporation of many, the Big Data Robbery, extracting and building huge datasets about people. Zuboff takes the lid off Google and Facebook to reveal a merciless form of capitalism in which the citizen itself now serves as a raw material.
Governments all around the world are using high-tech mass surveillance tools to monitor their citizens. Western corporations, including Britain’s largest weapons manufacturer, BAE, are among those which are creating and selling mass surveillance infrastructures all across the globe, but especially to particularly repressive regimes. Weapons of Mass Surveillance makes example of what is happening throughout the Middle East where journalists, human rights advocates and activists are being targeted with surveillance tools developed by western corporations with extreme real-world consequences. Political opponents to tyrannical power are targeted, jailed, and in some cases, tortured or “disappeared.” This shows the power of mass surveillance tools for great harm, and how the west is culpable in perpetuating systemic repression both at home and abroad.
Nothing to Hide questions the growing surveillance state and its acceptance by the general public through the thought-terminating cliché, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” argument. What is shown is that this logic is incredibly complacent and dangerous, even just from a historical perspective, considering authoritarian regimes, past and present. Nothing to Hide sets out to turn this acquiescence around, by weaving together expert commentary through real-life examples. A person agrees to be tracked as part of a small experiment, to show a small insight into the sorts of data trails that are revealed throughout our every-day lives. What is extrapolated from there is the incredible power and insight into our lives that these technologies provide. Insights which corporations and governments alike use for social control and profiling. What kind of society is being perpetuated for ourselves and future generations?
1966, United States. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to overthrow the corrupt systems of power waging the invasion of Vietnam, amongst the struggle for equality and civil rights at home. Beginning with armed citizens’ patrols to keep police accountable and challenge police brutality in Oakland California, The Black Panther Party put itself at the vanguard for social change, expanding in 1969 to community social programs, including free breakfast for school kids and community health clinics. This lead the FBI to call the movement “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and start an extensive government program called COINTELPRO to surveil, infiltrate, perjure, harass, discredit, destabilise and disintegrate the movement. This film chronicles the story arc of the Black Panthers successes and failures, through the voices of the people who were actually there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and the Black Panthers themselves.
A Good American chronicles the work of whistleblower William Binney, a former official of the National Security Agency who specialised in cryptography and signals intelligence analysis for over three decades. The film focuses on the lead up to the events of the 1990s where Binney was instrumental in the creation of a secret intelligence program called ThinThread, in which mass surveillance of global communications data was carried out and had sophisticated analysis applied to it in search for threats in real time. However, three weeks prior to the September 11th 2001 attacks, Michael Hayden, director of the NSA, ends the ThinThread program to instead run with another called Trailblazer which lacks privacy protections. Not long after this, Binney resigns. What the NSA does to Binney after this turn of events is the story of the transformation where Binney and his colleagues Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Thomas Drake, and Diane Roark blow the whistle on a corrupt and brutal agency.
The United States of Secrets chronologically accounts the Bush administration’s embrace of illegal and widespread dragnet surveillance and eavesdropping programmes, along with the Obama administration’s decision to not only continue them, but to dramatically expand them—despite denials and promises to the contrary. By weaving narratives by those who sought to blow the whistle on these programmes over the decades—culminating with Edward Snowden’s unprecedented dump of insider documents in 2013—we see how and why those inside the NSA and other government agencies came to act; what actions were effective, and what role the mainstream media had and continues to have in keeping such secret projects alive and untouchable in the name of ‘national security.’
In March 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania, took hundreds of secret documents out, and mailed them to newspapers across the country to share them with the public. The group, calling themselves The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, undertook the actions at a time where suspicions about systemic abuse and manipulation of social and political movements by intelligence agencies were running high in the context of the Vietnam war and 1960s counter-culture. In doing so, these citizens uncovered the FBI’s vast and illegal regimes, leading to insights about mass surveillance, intimidation, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers for manipulation, and sabotage. Much of this would later go on to be known as part of a covert program called COINTELPRO that was run directly by J. Edgar Hoover to destroy social change movements—a history that is imperative to understand in the context of today, where state repression of social change movements continues.
In January 2013, film-maker Laura Poitras received an encrypted e-mail from a stranger who called himself Citizen Four. In it, he offered her inside information about illegal wiretapping practices of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Poitras had already been working for several years on a film about mass surveillance programs in the United States, and so in June 2013, she went to Hong Kong with her camera for the first meeting with the stranger, who identified himself as Edward Snowden. She was met there by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill. Several other meetings followed. Citizenfour is based on the recordings from these meetings. What follows is the largest confirmations of mass surveillance using official documents themselves, the world has never seen…
Peter Francis, a former undercover police spy turned conscientious whistleblower, breaks ranks by speaking to the media after becoming troubled by the unaccountable culture of secret police operations throughout the United Kingdom targeting peace activists for decades. Tactics included undercover police officers having sexual relationships with activists, even going as far as commonly having children with the women they were spying on. Undercover agents also often assumed the identities of dead children in order to have “solid cover stories.” We also see how undercover police were asked to look for intelligence that could be used to discredit the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and their campaign. The Lawrence family both speak of their shock at hearing about that the police did this to them. This short investigation opens a flood of questions about the secret history of covert police operations, and indeed the future of them in the context of the sprawling surveillance state of today.
Persons of Interest is a four part series where former activists and political dissidents are given their previously secret ASIO files and asked to explain the allegations contained in them. As a result, the series unravels the hidden political and cultural history of Australia that is still being unmasked today in a world gripped by confirmations of mass surveillance abuses by ASIO and other intelligence agencies such as the NSA in the United States. Using the content of the ASIO records themselves along with genuine surveillance footage, this series tells the story of spies, traitors and intelligence intrigue in Australia against a backdrop of the big political events of the 20th century; at a time when fear of Communism, outsiders and threats to the established order fostered the construction of a vast and secret network of surveillance on ordinary people.
Admit it—you don’t really read the endless pages of terms and conditions connected to every website you visit or phone call that you make do you? Of course not. But every day billion-dollar corporations are learning more about your interests, your friends and family, your finances, and your secrets—precisely because of this; and are not only selling the information to the highest bidder, but freely sharing it with the government. And you agreed to all of it. With plenty of recent real-world examples, Terms And Conditions May Apply covers just a little of what governments and corporations are legally taking from Internet users every day—turning the future of both privacy and civil liberties into serious question. From whistleblowers and investigative journalists to zombie fan clubs and Egyptian dissidents, this film demonstrates how all of us online have incrementally opted-in to a real-time surveillance state, click by click.
Over half a century, Rupert Murdoch’s rapacious business audacity has built one of the world’s most powerful and ubiquitous media empires. But with revelations of bribery, blackmail, collusion with police and government, wiretapping and other invasions on privacy, the empire seems to be showing cracks. The scandal has prompted criminal investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and also broken open the insular world of the Murdoch family, its news executives, and the vast political elite who court their favour. Murdoch’s Scandal tells the story of the battle over the future of News Corporation and the challenging of the extensive media empire…
Informant follows the story of Brandon Darby—a radical-left activist turned FBI informant through a series of events starting with community support work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to the Republican National Convention in 2008. Brandon ends up turning fellow activists to the FBI for making Molotov cocktails in circumstances described by fellow activists as entrapment. So what happened? Did Brandon manipulate fellow activists into doing things they didn’t want to do, or were some activists simply not engaging in a full analysis of the effectiveness of their strategies and tactics? In any event, was turning over activists to the FBI the right thing to do, even when nobody was hurt?
The Program is a short film focusing on William Binney—a former highly placed intelligence official with the United States National Security Agency, turned whistleblower after revelations that a system he created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward for domestic spying at the behest of the Bush administration in 2001. For this, Binney resigned in October of that year and later began speaking publicly. He is among a group of NSA whistle-blowers, including Thomas A. Drake, who have each risked everything—their livelihoods, freedom, and personal relationships—to warn everyone about the dangers of the current era of mass surveillance.
Mark Kennedy was an undercover police officer who spent eight years as a infiltrator and informer on environmental movements and other protest groups throughout Europe. Confessions of an Undercover Cop accounts the actions of Kennedy from his perspective, which reveals an insight into the dark, twisted psychology of a police informant and the methods they use to destabilise movements and activists…
A secret illegal project from the 1950s, 60s and 70s called COINTELPRO, represents the state’s strategy to prevent resistance movements and communities from achieving their ends of racial justice, social equality and human rights. The program was mandated by the United States’ FBI, formally inscribing a conspiracy to destroy social movements, as well as mount institutionalised attacks against allies of such movements and other key organisations. Some of the goals were to disrupt, divide, and destroy movements, as well as instilling paranoia, manipulation by surveillance, imprisonment, and even outright murder of key figures of movements and other people. Many of the government’s crimes are still unknown. Through interviews with activists who experienced these abuses first-hand, COINTELPRO 101 opens the door to understanding this history, with the intended audience being the generations that did not experience the social justice movements of the 60s and 70s; where illegal surveillance, disruption, and outright murder committed by the government was rampant and rapacious. This film stands to provide an educational introduction to a period of intense repression, to draw many relevant and important lessons for the present and the future of social justice.
This short film uses the history and figure of the Murdoch media empire as a vast invasive machine, to draw parallels to new media machines such as Google that are not only more invasive, but more pervasive than anything the Murdoch media empire has managed. Why are we not more concerned about this?
For Your Eyes Only? reports on the existence of a secret government program that intercepts millions of e-mails each day in the name of ‘terrorist surveillance’. News about the program came to light when a former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, blew the whistle on a large-scale installation of secret Internet monitoring equipment deep inside AT&T’s San Francisco office. The equipment was installed at the request of the United States government to spy on all e-mail traffic across the entire Internet. Though the government and AT&T refuse to address the issue directly, Klein backs up his charges with internal company documents and personal photos…
September 11 has indelibly altered the world in ways that people are now starting to earnestly question: not only perpetual orange alerts, barricades and body frisks at the airport, but greater government scrutiny of people’s records and electronic surveillance of their communications. The US National Security Agency (NSA) has engaged in wiretapping and the sifting of Internet communications of millions of people worldwide, including their own…
In 1966, Australia made an agreement with the United States that allowed the establishment of a secret military base satellite tracking station, just south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The facility is called Pine Gap and for more than forty years it has operated in a shroud of secrecy and been the target of much controversy. Home on The Range attempts to contextualise these issues by highlighting the history of the base and its origins, as well as the stories of controversy. Some of these include the Khemlani Affair and the sacking of the Whitlam government in 1975, the Christopher Boyce spy trial, the role of the Central Intelligence Agency and its former agent Victor Marchetti, as well as documenting the post-war culture of government secrecy, sprawling intelligence agencies and foreign affairs and policy. But Home on the Range does more than gesture toward such CIA interventions. It marshals a persuasive array of evidence linking the imminent expiry of leases on United States military and intelligence bases in Australia in 1975, to the CIA and Whitlam’s sacking, posing direct questions about the nature of democracy in regions beholden to the United States.