Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Oliver, Snowden Put Government Spying in Terms Americans Can Understand

Created: 07 April, 2015
Updated: 21 November, 2022
1 min read

On Sunday’s episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, comedian and reporter John Oliver traveled to Moscow to visit Edward Snowden, who is residing in Russia after leaking NSA documents to the media.

In what is undeniably one of the most candid interviews we’ve seen with the former NSA analyst, Oliver continuously puts Snowden on the spot, asking him how many of the documents he actually read:

Snowden: “I do understand what I turned over." Oliver: "There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents… because when you’re handing over thousands of NSA documents the last thing you’d want to do is read them."

While Edward Snowden is regarded as a hero by many, Oliver’s field research shows that very few Americans (or at least New Yorkers) actually know who Edward Snowden is, let alone what he did.

But when put into relatable terms, Americans start to see things differently...which is why Oliver changes his line of questioning to ask Americans how they would feel if the government could see the private images they share on the Internet.

"This is the most visible line in the sand for most people: Can they see my dick?" Oliver concludes.

After contextualizing the severity of the NSA's data collection system by explaining each program's capabilities in terms of "dick pics," Snowden closes with:

"The good news is that there's no program named the 'dick pic' program. The bad news... they are still collecting everybody's information, including your dick pics," Snowden said while stifling a chuckle. "You shouldn't change your behavior because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing," he tells Oliver. "If we sacrifice our values because we're afraid, we don't care about those values very much."

Watch the entire interview below: