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.
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.
Every day, escalating technologies are being used to monitor all of us as populations with unprecedented scrutiny—from driving habits to workplace surveillance, as shoppers, as consumers, as citizens. We are all increasingly being observed and analysed. Internet searches are monitored and used as evidence in court, the police track our movements on the road, governments collect our DNA, fingerprints and iris scans, corporations assemble huge databases for profiling and selling data, while governments collude with such lucrative businesses—for example, Acxiom, Lexis Nexis and ChoicePoint—to gain access to vast volumes of information about people and the machinations of modern society. What will it take for us to stop this system before it boils over into a full-blown technocratic authoritarian regime?
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…
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.
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…
Counter-Intelligence is a 5 part series that explores in-depth, the vast, sprawling and secret National Security State that operates throughout the United States—and indeed the world. The series examines the foundations of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex, charting through to the myriad consequences in today’s world where secret intelligence organisations continue to hijack governments, manipulate elections and commit heinous crimes against humanity—all under the cloak of “National Security”. In the wake of the continued revelations of the NSA PRISM program, this series is now more important than ever to provide a solid historical context to the workings of the rapacious and ever-expanding National Security State…
Cypherpunks is a movement originating from the 1980s aiming to improve Internet privacy and security through proactive use of cryptography. With WikiLeaks being a recent offshoot of the many projects derived from the Cypherpunk movement, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange talks with three activists from the Cyberpunk world to cover the topics of mass surveillance and social control being tied directly into technology as modern society progressively intertwines with technological progress…
Tracing the Internet’s history as a publicly-funded government project in the 1960s, to its full-scale commercialisation today, Digital Disconnect shows how the Internet’s so-called “democratising potential” has been radically compromised by the logic of capitalism, and the unaccountable power of a handful of telecom and tech monopolies. Based on the acclaimed book by media scholar Robert McChesney, the film examines the ongoing attack on the concept of net neutrality by telecom monopolies such as Comcast and Verizon, explores how internet giants like Facebook and Google have amassed huge profits by surreptitiously collecting our personal data and selling it to advertisers, and shows how these monopolies have routinely colluded with the national security state to advance covert mass surveillance programs. We also see how the rise of social media as a leading information source is working to isolate people into ideological information bubbles and elevate propaganda at the expense of real journalism. But while most debates about the Internet focus on issues like the personal impact of Internet-addiction or the rampant data-mining practices of companies like Facebook, Digital Disconnect digs deeper to show how capitalism itself turns the Internet against democracy. The result is an indispensable resource for helping viewers make sense of a technological revolution that has radically transformed virtually aspect of human communication.
Film maker David Bond lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance states in the world — Britain. When David receives a letter stating that both he and his daughter are amongst the 25 million residents whose details have been lost by the government in a massive data breach, David sets out to investigate some potential impacts of such data being lost in a society of mass surveillance. Erasing David documents the test where David hires two private detectives to track him down as he chooses to ‘disappear’ for 30 days to see if he can avoid being caught amongst the vast data trails generated by modern society…
Filmmaker Werner Boote travels across the globe to investigate the era of so-called Big Data, where huge amounts of detail about our lives are gleaned for use in decision making, automation, and consumerism, but ultimately, to generate huge profits for corporations that harvest and control our data. Everything’s Under Control investigates these modern times through many lenses: People who have studied surveillance culture, to democracy activists in Hong Kong; from educators, advertisers, and traders, to privacy advocates, and security experts; from digital IDs, fingerprinting, iris scans and online profiling, to hacking, data leaks, and invigorating recent historical memory of atrocities based on data and personal information. We hear distorted perspectives on privacy from many voices, challenging the viewer to reflect on what it means to live through the largest social experiment with data ever before conducted on a global scale.
Facebook is an enormously powerful corporation, harnessing both the self-disclosed and gleaned personal data of over 2 billion people. Its user-base is larger than the population of any country. The company is all pervasive online, tracking and profiling users and non-users alike. Cracking the Code looks at the insides of this giant machine and how Facebook turns your thoughts and behaviours into profits—whether you like it or not. And it’s not just a one-way transaction either. Cracking the Code also explains how Facebook uses vast troves of web data to manipulate the way you think and feel, as well as act—all in the sole interests of Facebook, masquerading as “community.” What are the social implications of this—when one company basically controls the insights and experiences of the entire online world, with extremely personalised and targeted social and behavioural engineering on a scale never before seen?
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…
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.
For the past 15 years, the misnomer “War on Terror” has been used by the United States to justify everything from mass surveillance and spying on its own citizens, to the use of secret drone strikes to kill people without trial or sometimes even evidence. Governments have always applied surveillance to those they consider a political threat, but the scale of the clandestine PRISM programme, which collects the data of billions of innocent people all across the globe, is unprecedented. Likewise is the call for the journalists who published the documents revealing the PRISM programme to be prosecuted. In the wake of relations about sustained, systematic abuses of power, it is apparent that in many areas, the United States operates on spurious interpretations of law, often explained in confidential memos, hidden from the public. Other times, the law is disregarded entirely. So what does this mean for resistance? How can citizen rights be reconciled with a rogue state security apparatus?
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?
On October 15th 2007, a series of intense police raids occurred around the small village of Ruatoki in New Zealand. Operation 8, as it was called, was the result of 18 months of invasive surveillance of Maori sovereignty and peace activists accused of attending ‘terrorist training camps’ in the Urewera ranges—the homeland of the indigenous Tūhoe people. This film examines why and how the raids took place. Did the “War on Terror” become a global witch-hunt of political dissenters reaching even to the South Pacific?
Using the analogy of a Panopticon, this film looks at how technology and the convergence of vast data stores together are fuelling one of the most comprehensive attacks on privacy ever before seen. How is modern society being defined by such rapid changes? Where are we heading? By travelling to Germany to show how such attacks have been the basis for past dictatorships, Panopticon asks: Even if you have nothing to hide, do you have nothing to fear? What does privacy mean for you? When precisely does the surveillance state begin? What is your threshold? With a focus on the Netherlands, Panopticon offers a comprehensive analysis challenging the current herd-mentality and apathy about privacy in the modern world.
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.
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…
We live in a world of screens. The average adult spends the majority of their waking hours in front of some sort of screen or device. We’re enthralled, we’re addicted to these machines. How did we get here? Who benefits? What are the cumulative impacts on people, society and the environment? What may come next if this culture is left unchecked, to its end trajectory, and is that what we want? Stare Into The Lights My Pretties investigates these questions with an urge to return to the real physical world, to form a critical view of technological escalation driven rapacious and pervasive corporate interest. Covering themes of addiction, privacy, surveillance, information manipulation, behaviour modification and social control, the film lays the foundations as to why we may feel like we’re sleeprunning into some dystopian nightmare with the machines at the helm. Because we are, if we don’t seriously avert our eyes to stop this culture from destroying what is left of the real world.
The Future Of Biometrics takes a look at current day technologies that interface with the human body for surveillance, identification, tracking and analysis. Using fingerprints, retina scans, gate analysis and other more intrinsic physical or behavioural traits, biometric technologies provoke a range of pertinent questions around social control, privacy and mass surveillance, especially that these technologies are in use, today…
The Hacker Wars explores the strange duality of the modern-day computer-hacker as a mischievous provocateur, but also in some cases, societal activists with underlying political fervour, serious or not. The film explores this by profiling some of the renowned characters that have tickled the secretive inner workings of corporations and government agencies for various reasons—ranging from the nefarious and narcissistic, to the political and scandalous. Some do it for the lulz, others do it to prove a point, and others still do it to speak truth to corrupt power. In any event, many have faced severe punishments as a result. Weaving through this, The Hacker Wars touches on issues of whistleblowing, social justice and power relations, in a time where computer technologies represent extreme power and control. But for whom? And what? This poses the question in deciphering the personalities of the hackers themselves. Are they troublemakers driven solely by a need to instigate havoc and chaos? Or are they in part activists with good intentions?
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.
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.
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.’
This film explores what affect the web is having on our society, as seen through the eyes of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of.” Josh Harris—often called the “Andy Warhol of the Web”—founded a website during the infamous dot-com boom of the 1990s which was the world’s first Internet television network. This concept was way ahead of its time, before broadband, but would go on to become commonplace in the years to come. Using this platform, a vision of that future was also exemplified at the time—an underground bunker in New York City where over 100 people lived together completely on camera, non-stop and unedited for 30 days over the millennium. The irony in which this speaks to future events doesn’t end there though. As the experiment and the film shows, We Live In Public serves as a powerful analogy for the Internet as it’s now known today and the price we pay for living in its ‘public,’ showing just what the costs of willingly trading privacy and sanity for a constant voracious audience, attention, the pursuit of the cult of celebrity—but above all, the mimic of real human connection mediated by technology—can be.
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.