top of page

Movie Response #2: Citizenfour: The Three Eras

Without the consent of the governed, the governed are living in a digital panopticon where the government watches everything the governed does on the internet and the locations of the governed. Edward Snowden exposed this secret of the United States government through Journalist Glenn Greenwald and Filmmaker Laura Poitras. This exposure was released through the film “Citizenfour.” Citizenfour, the best documentary feature in 2014, recorded how Edward Snowden released the NSA classified documents and how the American populous responded to the NSA classified document released.

The government is defiantly rejecting the right to privacy and invoking their duty to have the citizens enter a state of surveillance in the interest of national security. However, the right to individual privacy safeguards intellectual freedom and government accountability, which are essential to quality of life. When the United States uses mass surveillance, it suffocates freedom and creates unaccountability that is used to hide government abuses to the citizen’s right to individual privacy. Citizenfour invokes the message that the government is not 100% truthful through Edward Snowden’s release of classified material that pertains to national security.

To analyze this concept of how Snowden and the American regime acted in response to the NSA documents leaks, the definitions need to be set. These definitions are the right to individual privacy, whistleblowers, Edward Snowden, and national security.

The Right to Individual privacy is defined by Snowden as “freedom from damaging publicity, public scrutiny, secret surveillance, or unauthorized disclosure of one’s data or information, whether by government, corporation, or individual” (Snowden, 2017, section 3). Citizenfour indicated that “protecting the right to privacy is vital not just in itself but because it is an essential requirement for the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, the most fundamental pillars of democracy” (Snowden, 2017, para 3). Therefore, the right to Individual privacy was the motivating factor that moved Snowden to form the Edward Snowden Treaty of Exposed NSA secret document. The Edward Snowden Treaty is “A proposed treaty that would curtail mass surveillance and protect the rights of Whistleblowers” (Snowden, 2017, para 7).

Whistleblowing is defined by the Government Accountability Project as “An employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety” (“What is a Whistleblower,” 2019, para 1). This source continued to say, “When information is classified or otherwise restricted by Congress or Executive Order, disclosures only are protected as whistleblowing if made through designated, secure channels” (“What is a whistleblower,” 2019, para 1). This definition is crucial to the documentary analysis of Citizenfour, a bio on whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden is a character to this film that has key characteristics that need to be addressed. Citizenfour, the documentary on the necessity of revealing the mass surveillance induced by the American regime, shows that Edward Snowden had no intention of hiding, instead he wanted to go out and tell the truth. Edward Snowden, said to Glenn Greenwald, during the interview in the Citizenfour, that “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.” This indicates that Citizenfour would hide his identity no longer and reveal who he is. He is Former CIA employee and currently residing somewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere. His location was not disclosed for privacy purposes. This is a crucial figure in the biopic, Citizenfour.

The final definition is national security. National security is defined as “The idea that a country must keep its secrets safe and its army strong in order to protect its citizens” (“National Security,” n.d., para 1). This definition points to the fact that government was the actor in the biopic, Citizenfour, because the government response was to enter the citizens in state of surveillance in the interest of national security.

These definitions are crucial to analyzing the documentary, Citizenfour, because they lays the foundation of why the United States regime was trying to prevent the leak and why they tried to punish Edward Snowden and the American populous. Citizenfour revealed three eras; the Pre-Snowden Era, the Snowden’s Era, and the Post-Snowden Era that shows what the harms of digital surveillance was, why Snowden acted on the behalf of protecting the populous’ Right to Individual privacy, and how the citizens are living in a state of surveillance induced by the American regime. For these reasons, Citizenfour uncovered how Snowden and the American regime responded to the NSA document leaks.

First, the Pre-Snowden era shows why the government responded by instituting a secret surveillance program, and that they did realize that they were infringing on the citizens’ right to individual privacy which harmed the citizens’ right to individual privacy. One event shaped the government’s view of safeguarding the citizens, it was 9/11. On the fateful day of September 11th, 2001, Al Qaeda was preparing a terrorist attack to bomb the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and the White House. The Al Qaeda group succeeded with the two of three terrorist attacks but failed to attack the White House. 3,000 people died on that fateful day of 9/11. Through the 9/11 event, Congress and the President Bush assumed if they instituted a secret surveillance program, the United States could combat Terrorist plots in the United States soil. They instituted the PATRIOT Act which allows the United States government without a warrant to collect data on everyone. This act started the NSA secret Surveillance program. this program searched and collected data on everyone. This was the Right to Individual Privacy death. This Act suffocated freedom of privacy for the growth of National Security. The Pre-Snowden Era, including the 9/11 attack and the death of the right to individual privacy showed that the government responded to 9/11 attack by instituting a secret surveillance program under the PATRIOT Act and thereby harming the right to individual privacy.

Second, Snowden’s era showed how Snowden responded the establishment of a secret surveillance program. Snowden’s era was the main focus of the biopic, Citizenfour. As seen in real time in the movie Citizenfour, Snowden responded by leaking NSA documents on crucial secret operations in both the United States and in other countries. In Citizenfour, Snowden said this NSA documents included program such as Tempora and PRISM.

As described in Citizenfour, Tempora is a program by which the GCHQ’s and the NSA are able “to access and process vast quantities of communication between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects” without the citizens knowing about it. (MacAskill, Borger, Hopkins, Davies, Ball, 2013, para 3). In Citizenfour, they described what the NSA and GCHQ’s are surveilling. These include phone calls, email messages, Facebook posts, etc.…. Snowden, in Citizenfour, said, “Every phone call you make, everything you do, is being watched by the American Government.” The American government declined these allegations and said that they weren’t surveilling us. However, the American government secretly surveilled us by using PRISM. PRISM is a secret governmental surveillance program under which “the NSA, FBI, and CIA gather and search through American’s international emails, internet calls, and chats without obtaining a warrant” (Toomey, 2018, para 2). PRISM should be deemed unconstitutional because it strips the citizens’ right to individual privacy away. The film Citizenfour, furthered the case that PRISM should be deemed unconstitutional. The case of unwarranted surveillance by the government is currently being scrutinized by a Federal Court. This case has the “potential to restore crucial privacy protections for the millions of Americans who use the internet to communicate with family, friends, and others overseas” (Toomey, 2018, para 1). This means that Snowden even facing persecution opened the debate between national security and the right to individual privacy. Therefore, Snowden was right, in Citizenfour, to release the NSA documents because it ensured the right to Individual privacy was safeguarded.

With these reasons, Whistleblower Edward Snowden released the classified NSA documents on the behalf on the citizens’ right to privacy. Edward Snowden was right to release the documents but faced the backlash of the American government. The American government response to the leak was to arrest Whistleblower Edward Snowden on the charge of being a traitor and is a national security threat to the American people. Whistleblower Snowden stated that “Despite government surveillance on the internet doing us a tremendous public service by bringing these abuses to light, Edward Snowden was forced to flee certain incarceration in the U.S.” (Snowden, 2017, para 6). Snowden had to flee from the United States because Snowden was convicted of three indictments under the Espionage act as the film portrayed. Since he had to flee, he sought political asylum in undisclosed location in the Eastern Hemisphere. Therefore, the Snowden’s Era, as portrayed in Citizenfour, showed how Snowden responded to the establishment of a secret surveillance program and how the government responded to NSA document leak and to Snowden.

Third, the Post-Snowden Era showed how the governments around the world are using surveillance as a censorship method. Greenwald, a journalist for The Guardian, hoped that this leak would stop the constant surveillance but it didn’t. Citizens are constantly living in fear that the government is watching their every move. This constant surveillance by the government and corporations decrease the citizens’ right to free speech, the citizens’ right to free press, and the citizens’ inherent right to individual privacy. The directors of the Citizenfour hoped this biopic would stop by exposing the secrets of PRISM and other secret surveillance program, but in turn, this film furthered surveillance. In 2019, 6 years after Citizenfour, the populous is living in a digital panopticon, where the government and corporate business are watching the populous’ every move. this is the Post-Snowden Era, the Era of Surveillance.

In conclusion, Citizenfour exposed, through the interview with Whistleblower Edward Snowden, the secret of Governmental surveillance. We also saw through these three eras that Edward Snowden was right to release the documents to safeguard the citizens’ right to individual privacy. Therefore, Citizenfour, a critically acclaimed film, affirmed the decision to keep the government in check by exposing the secret governmental surveillance programs.


MacAskill, E., Borger, J., Hopkins, N., Davies, N. & James Ball. (2013). GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world’s communication. The Guardian. Retrieved from

National security. (n.d.). Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Retrieved from

Snowden, Edward. (2017). Treaty; What is the Snowden Treaty. Snowden Treaty. Retrieved from

Snowden, Edward. (2017). What is Privacy? What is the provacy and why is government spying on the internet. Snowden Treaty. Retrieved from

Toomey, P. (2018). The NSA continues to violate American’s internet privacy rights. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved from

What is a whistleblower. (2019). The Government Accountability Project. Retrieved from

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page