John Oliver is worried that you don’t care about government surveillance because you have no idea what it is. After doing an informal poll of passersby in Times Square, who for the most part had no idea who whistle-blower Edward Snowden was or what it was he leaked, Oliver said Sunday, “It seems like we’ve kind of forgotten to have a debate over what Snowden leaked.”
The best person to explain why surveillance should upset the American people, John Oliver reasoned, is “the most famous hero and/or traitor in recent American history” Edward Snowden himself. So Oliver and crew traveled to Russia to sit down with him.
Before the interview, Oliver used his introduction to prime viewers using his patented random analogies (he likened Julian Assange—the creator of Wikileaks—to a “sandwich bag full of biscuit dough wearing a Stevie Nicks wig) and plain-spoken approach to explain government surveillance and why it matters. And matters now. The Patriot Act is up for reauthorization on June 1, and John Oliver doesn’t want you to forget it.
Specifically, one part of the Patriot Act that is expiring is called Section 215. It is what gives the government the authority ask companies to hand over “any tangible things” that pertain to terrorism.
“Which is basically a blank check,” Oliver said last night. “It’s like letting a teenager borrow the car on the strict condition that they only use it for car-related activities. ‘OK, Mom and Dad, I’m gonna use this for a handjob in the Wendy’s parking lot, but that is car-related, so I think I’m covered.'”
Oliver acknowledged in his introduction that not all Americans view Snowden as a hero; many consider him a traitor who should return to face charges. “Look, you can think that Snowden did the wrong thing or did it in the wrong way but the fact is, we have this information now and we no longer have the luxury of pleading ignorance. It’s like you can’t go to Sea World and pretend that Shamu’s happy anymore when we now know that at least half the water in her tank is whale tears.”
In the above video, Oliver asks Snowden hard-hitting questions like, “do you miss hot pockets?”
“Yes, I miss hot pockets very much,” Snowden says.
The most painful part of the above interview comes when Oliver forces Snowden to watch the footage from Times Square of Americans not knowing who he is or what he did. Snowden’s face as he watches registers amusement, surprise, and then frank horror. “I’m in charge of Wikileaks,” he says, incredulously. Oliver turns the color of a beefsteak tomato and then proclaims, “Not ideal. I guess, on the plus side, you might be able to go home because it seems like no one knows who the fuck you are or what the fuck you did.”
“I did this to give the American people the chance to decide for themselves the kind of government they want to have,” Snowden says.
When Oliver shows Snowden evidence that all typical Americans care about is whether the government can see our “dick pics,” he encourages Snowden to go through a list of every government surveillance program and explain its capabilities in terms of access to “dick pics.”
“The good news is, there is no [government] program named The Dick Pic Program,” says Snowden. “The bad news is they are still collecting everybody’s information, including your dick pics.”
Then Oliver hands Snowden a picture of his penis.
“So, 702 Surveillance [Act]—can they see my dick?” Oliver asks.
“Yes, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which section 702 falls under, allows the bulk collection of internet data that are one-end foreign…”
“Bulk collection—now we’re talking about my dick,” Oliver says.
Do you care now, America?
“I guess I never thought about putting it into context of your junk before,” Snowden concludes.