A documentary on whistleblower Edward Snowden won the Oscar for the best documentary feature, in a shot in the arm for people worldwide protesting against alleged U.S. intrusions into the privacy of people in the country and abroad.
The 87th Academy Awards were held Sunday in Los Angeles and presents film awards in 24 categories.
Snowden, a former contractor of the U.S. National Security Agency, shook up the security establishment starting in June 2013, when he disclosed through newspapers that the agency was collecting in bulk phone data of Verizon’s U.S. customers, the first of many revelations by him.
Subsequent disclosures also alleged that the U.S. had real-time access to content on the servers of Internet companies, which the tech firms denied, and also spied on top world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Last week, the Intercept cited documents from Snowden to allege that U.S. and British spies had hacked into the network of SIM cards maker Gemalto to steal encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications.
Snowden went into hiding to avoid extradition and arrest, and is currently in Russia where he has obtained asylum. The documentary Citizenfour, named after the pseudonym used by Snowden in January 2013 to contact Laura Poitras, the activist director of the documentary, is the story of Snowden’s disclosures from her eyes and that of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who received the classified documents in Hong Kong.
In the wake of the outcry following Snowden’s revelations, U.S. President Barack Obama called for changes to NSA surveillance in January last year, with new privacy advocates assigned to a surveillance court and a move away from the bulk collection of telephone records.
But the changes have been slow, including because of delays by Congress to pass the necessary legislation. The USA Freedom Act, which would leave the data with telecommunications companies and restrict the search terms used by the NSA, was stalled last year in the Senate, despite White House backing for the legislation.
In a message released through the American Civil Liberties Union, Snowden said his hope “is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”
The ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said the documentary has “helped fuel a global debate on the dangers of mass surveillance and excessive government secrecy.”