Edward Snowden’s appearance on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver made one thing very apparent: Snowden would resonate more with Americans if he rebranded his mission in a more relatable way, STAT.
Before his sit-down with Snowden, Oliver outlines the pressing issue at hand: the June 1 expiration date of the Patriot Act, a law signed in shortly after the September 11 attacks that granted the U.S. government sweeping surveillance authority to combat terrorism. It’s been extended and reauthorized with relative ease since 2001–that is, until Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, began leaking exactly what the broad provisions of the Patriot Act, and government spying at large, really mean.
Come June 1, the following provisions of the Patriot Act may be reauthorized:
Section 215, which allows the government to access “any tangible thing” in relation to a terrorism investigation.
Section 206 (aka “roving John Doe wiretap”), which allows the government to gain intelligence surveillance orders without identification of the person or facility being tapped.
Section 6001 (aka “Lone Wolf”), which permits surveillance on non-U.S. persons unaffiliated with foreign organizations.
Confused? Indifferent? You’re not alone–and that’s the problem.
Unpacking what’s at stake is a difficult but necessary task. In John Oliver’s view (and based on man-on-the-street interviews in New York), the average American needs to be spoon-fed such complicated matters in a more personally relevant way–and he found the perfect vehicle to finally capture the imagination of the American Everyman: dick pics.
The same passersby interviewed for this segment who didn’t even know who Snowden is or what he’s done got immediately fired up over the possibility that the government may be looking at pictures of their privates, or the privates of their loved ones. So Oliver has Snowden explain NSA programs through the lens of dick pics. It’s a ridiculous, hilarious concept that also manages to unpack in a compelling way the pertinent and complicated problems with government surveillance–and a feat of both comedy and journalism. Watch the segment below.