I’m not great at watching movies. Sometimes I fall asleep. Sometimes I just don’t pay attention. Sometimes I watch and forget I’ve even seen a movie a week or two later.
I don’t think I’m going to forget Citizenfour, though.
I’ll admit to not paying a ton of attention to every minute detail of Snowden’s disclosures when they were fist reported. I knew he’d blown the top off of electronic spying. I knew he fled the country, and I knew he’s facing charges that will likely land him in prison the rest of his life if the U.S. intelligence committee ever catches up with him.
I didn’t need to know much more in order to connect the dots. So, I’ll probably forget a lot of what is in the movie, which is fine- it’s completely aggravating.
One thing I won’t forget, though, is the connection to the movie, “Unconstitutional.” If you haven’t seen that movie, it’s a documentary aimed at capturing post-911 intelligence actions and, more importantly, passage of the original Patriot Act. The movie has a fairly clear bias and slant, so I question the objectivity of some of what is presented. One thing I don’t question, however, is the scene where Rep. Peter DeFazio debates the “new” bill that they are about to be asked to vote on.
If my memory is correct, and I’m fairly certain it is, Congressional committees had debated and worked towards something of a “Patriot” act to possibly enact. When the day came up to vote, a completely new proposed bill popped up. When the debates began, the “new” proposal was so lengthy that it was unable to be properly read and reviewed by those preparing to vote. DeFazio took the floor and cautioned on enactment of a Patriot Act that nobody knew:
“This is still warm . It just came off the Xerox machine.” DeFazio said.
“This is not the bill that was adopted by a unanimous 36 vote of Democrats and Republicans on the Committee on the Judiciary. These are critical issues. This is what we are fighting for. These are our civil liberties.”
“Our.” That’s the part of the movie that’s seared in my memory. His argument was that if we are about to pass sweeping legislation that affects “us,” then we should at least take the time to review it all:
“…But we also have to be careful that we do not dredge up some of the worst ideas of the past, of the fifties, of the McCarthy era, of the Hoover era. There could be problems. I do not know. I just asked a Member of the Committee on the Judiciary who voted for the bill in committee, a unanimous vote, a bipartisan vote, agreed upon the tools we needed with the limits we needed to protect our precious civil liberties, what is in the bill. He said, who could know what is in this? It was just handed to him.”
“We are going to be required to vote on it in the next few hours. Why? Will these laws go into effect this weekend and make a difference in protecting people and making them more safe? No.”
* * *
“This is not the way to defend liberty and fight terrorism. I fear that this bill, since I do not know what is in it, could be the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution for civil liberties, rather than the tools our law enforcement agencies really need.”
* * *
“Give us at least a day to read it and understand what we are voting on.”
Of course, his argument fell on deaf ears. The proposed act was passed that day. Over a decade later it’s had a pretty profound impact on our civil liberties. “Citizenfour” is a result of that impact.
You can watch DeFazio’s argument in the CSPAN archives. Flip to about 5:35 in the video. I don’t need to watch it again, though. I won’t forget it.