John Oliver to Ed Snowden: Intel Reform Hangs on Dick Pics

Americans don't care about surveillance. They do care about the government holding on to their naked photos.


Nearly two years have come and gone since Edward Snowden stepped forward to disclose the full extent of American surveillance activities both at home and abroad, and a depressing reality has set in for civil liberty campaigners: There will probably be no major overhaul of the legal regimes that govern U.S. intelligence collection.

There are many reasons why that reform effort has stalled, but a major factor lies in the difficulty of explaining bulk surveillance methods and capabilities. The Internet is a vast and complex place, and attempting to explain to the average citizen when and where the National Security Agency might intercept one’s emails is difficult. Indeed, in a March poll, 46 percent of Americans described themselves as “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned” about government surveillance.

On June 1, a controversial aspect of the Patriot Act — Section 215 — will expire unless Congress decides to renew it. And while there is some indication that Congress may let the law lapse, the lack of public attention to the issue doesn’t bode well for activists who hope to kill a provision that has been cited to justify the collection by the U.S. government of all domestic call call records.

HBO’s John Oliver believes he has found the solution. In a hilarious interview with Snowden that aired Sunday, the comedian offers a talking point that could allow rights activists to speak in a language the common man can understand: “This is the most visible line in the sand for people: Can they see my dick?”

According to Snowden, the NSA has a somewhat cavalier attitude about the nude photos that pass through its systems. “It’s not actually seen as a big deal in the culture of the NSA because you see naked photos all of the time,” Snowden told Oliver, listing the specific intelligence programs that are capable of hoovering up naked photos.

“The good news is that there’s no program named the ‘Dick Pic Program.’ The bad news is they are still collecting everybody’s information, including your dick pics,” Snowden said.

In a series of interviews with passersby in Times Square, Oliver’s underlings asked whether they would consent to having the government store their nude photographs. The interview subjects all of course answered with resounding “no”s. Many of those interview subjects had no idea who Snowden is, were confused about what exactly he had done, and whom he had done it for (no, not WikiLeaks).

So the gonzo advertising strategy is out there for the enterprising civil liberties activist to claim: “Keep the government out of your pants. Reform the NSA.”

The full segment can be see here:

YouTube/Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

 Twitter: @EliasGroll