John Oliver: Government Surveillance 101


On June 1st some “controversial provisions are set to expire within the Patriot Act,” section 215. The contents of the act allow the government to hand over “…any tangible things… for an investigation to protect against international terrorism.” Further, it allows for all phone records of public citizens to be stored as ‘precautionary measures.’ The Act was written just after 9/11 and as John Oliver says, “it has become routine and ingrained in society.”

But what Oliver is trying to convey to the public is a message otherwise missed. In an almost comedic rant about the surveillance state and its implications, Oliver manages to deliver the vital message that everyone is equally effected by the Patriot Act and its provisions. “There are no easy answers here…we all want perfect privacy and perfect safety, but those two things cannot co-exist.”

It’s the strategy of deliverance that seems to succeed, including snippets of a rather awkward interview with Edward Snowden in Russia about Oliver’s “junk.” Be it as it may, the message is real: the surveillance state exists… but for what true purpose? Is it essential for people to conceptualize the situation or is it “fundamentally” confusing? And the ultimate question, why should we change our behavior out of fear of this situation?

It’s a vital way to communicate the problem; John Oliver uses the Patriot Act to frame the otherwise intangible topic of government surveillance on its citizens and the high costs that follow.




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  1. The argument: there are people willing to die to take our freedom.
    Governmental Rebuke:we must fight and destroy them.
    True rebuke: if we are willing and want freedom.
    If we change this, we have already lost.


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