John Oliver Gets Edward Snowden To Explain Government Snooping In Terms Of Penis Photos

By June 1, Congress must decide whether or not to reauthorize certain sections of the controversial USA Patriot Act (aka the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act), but even though it’s been nearly two years since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s massive and far-reaching data collection programs, many Americans either are only vaguely aware or don’t understand because it’s not easy to immediately see how things like PRISM and MYSTIC affect your daily existence. That’s why John Oliver not only went straight to Snowden for an explanation of these programs, but to have him put the snooping in terms many Internet-era perverts can understand: penis photos.

“It’s difficult for most people to even conceptualize,” Snowden admits in the above interview on HBO’s Last Week Tonight. He then starts to explain about the invisibility of the Internet and the complicated connections involved when Oliver interrupts.

This is the whole problem,” says Oliver. “I glaze over. It’s like the IT guy comes into your office and you go, ‘Oh sh*t — don’t teach me anything. I don’t want to learn. You smell like canned soup.'”

In order to show Snowden just how bored an uninformed a lot of Americans are, he plays some man-on-the-street interview footage demonstrating how little, if anything, people understand about Snowden and the NSA snooping scandal.

Then, referring to a previous Snowden anecdote about people at the NSA sharing nude photos caught in their mass data collections, Oliver shows another video of those same Americans saying they’d be horrified if their dick pics were floating around government offices, but many of them don’t believe it’s happening.

“The good news is there’s no program named ‘The Dick Pick’ program. The bad news is they’re still collecting everybody’s information, including your dick pics,” explains Snowden.

This is the most visible line in the sand for people — Can they see my dick?” Oliver declares, handing Snowden a folder that purportedly contains a photo of Oliver’s genitals. “So let’s go through each NSA program and explain to me its capabilities with regards to that photograph of my penis.”

702 surveillance (aka Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes the NSA to collect massive amounts of data on people “believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.”):

Snowden: “Section 702… allows the bulk communications of Internet communications that are ‘one-end’ foreign… so if you have your e-mail through Gmail hosted on a server overseas… if it at any time crosses outside the border of the United States, your junk ends up in the database.”

Oliver: “It doesn’t have to be sending your dick to a German?”

Snowden: “No, even if you’re sending to someone within the United States, your wholly domestic communication between you and your wife can go from New York to London and back and get caught up in the database.”

Executive Order 12333 (signed Dec. 4, 1981 by Pres. Ronald Reagan; authorized intelligence community to expand data collection operations):

Snowden: “E.O. 12333 is what the NSA uses when the other authorities aren’t aggressive enough or aren’t catching as much as they’d like.”

Oliver: “How are they going to see my dick? I’m only concerned about my penis.”

Snowden: “When you send your junk through Gmail. That’s stored on Google’s servers. Google moves data from data center to data center, invisibly to you without your knowledge. That data could be moved outside the borders of the United States, temporarily. When your junk was passed by Gmail, the NSA caught a copy of that.”

PRISM (an NSA surveillance that uses orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to collect stored data from large Internet companies):

Snowden: “PRISM is how they pull your ‘junk’ out of Google, with Google’s involvement. All of the different PRISM partners — people like Yahoo, Facebook Google — the government deputizes them be sort of their surveillance sheriff.”

Oliver: “Their a dick sheriff?”

Snowden: “Correct.”

Upstream (an NSA data collection technique that gathers in-transit information via the backbone of the Internet):

Snowden: “Upstream is how they snatch your junk as it transits the Internet.”

MYSTIC (the NSA’s program to collect data on all voice calls in certain countries):

Snowden: “If you’re describing your junk on the phone, yes [they’re collecting it]”

Oliver: “But do they have the content of that junk call, or just the duration of it?”

Snowden: “They have content as well, but only for a few countries. If you were on vacation in the Bahamas, yes.”

215 Metadata (Sec. 215 of the Patriot Act details how the government can compel companies to hand over information with regard to intelligence. Oliver is referring to the mass collection of metadata — non-content information like phone numbers, duration of calls, identities of those involved in call — from telecom providers):

Snowden: “No [the government can’t see your penis], but they can probably tell who you’re sharing your junk pictures with. Because they’s seeing who you’re texting and who you’re calling.”

Oliver: “If you called a penis enlargement center at three in the morning and the call lasted 90 minutes?”

Snowden: “They would have a record of your phone number calling that phone number — which is the penis enlargement center. They would say they don’t know it’s a penis enlargement center but of course they can look it up.”

To end the interview, Oliver asks, “Would your takeaway from all this be: Until such time as we’ve sorted all of this out, don’t take pictures of your dick?”

“No… you shouldn’t change your behavior because a government agency is doing the wrong thing,” explains Snowden. “If we sacrifice our values because we’re afraid, we don’t care about those values very much.”