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InBuena Vista Pictures released Enemy of the Statestarring Will Smith and Gene Hackman in a prophetic thriller about the dangers of unrestricted government surveillance. Smith starred as Robert Clayton Dean, a Washington labor attorney who gets unwittingly dragged into a fiasco involving a murdered U. This bill is not the first step to the surveillance society, it is the surveillance society. It would take 16 years before another work, The Good Wifewould come along that accomplished the task with similar aplomb, and unlike the speculative Enemy of the Stateit was ripped directly from the headlines.
Thanks to the whistleblowing efforts of Edward Snowden, ordinary Americans learned how easy it was for their private conversations, photos and videos to be swept into a far-reaching intelligence surveillance dragnet, all without their knowledge, much less consent. The Washington Post explained:. For collection under PRISM and Upstream rules, analysts must state a reasonable belief that the target has information of value about a foreign government, a terrorist organization or the spread of nonconventional weapons.
Most of the people caught up in those programs are not the targets and would not lawfully qualify as such.
The Good Wife episodes were ambitious, timely, charming and topical. What The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King accomplished with a basis of real-life reporting, Marconi effectively bottled in a movie script years earlier. The conflict of Enemy of the State kicks off because Congressman Hammersley chairs a crucial committee.
With NSA officials in pursuit, Zavitz passes the drive to Dean minutes before being fatally injured by a fire engine. Enemy of the State was free to express skepticism of NSA surveillance before it became taboo, before the nation was frozen by the deadliest terrorist attack to take place on American soil. Good Americans — patriots — the logic went, would have no problem submitting to intrusive monitoring into their religious practices, their private phone conversations, even their library recordsas long as the trade-off was more effective national security.
Or so the thinking went.
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But there was precedent for skepticism of the benevolence of the federal surveillance apparatus, even before Smith made it sexy. Before the Patriot Act, federal agencies had already established a history of surveilling African Americans, particularly those who were in the thick of the fight for civil rights. It cast the Black Power movement as an African American equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, unfairly characterizing it as equally hateful and terroristic in nature.
Those efforts have not subsided, but merely shifted focus. Contempt for black people pursuing the rights guaranteed by American citizenship did not disappear once Hoover was no longer running the FBI. Enemy of the State was able to communicate in a mainstream film what decades of black civil rights activists had struggled to do after state officials maligned their credibility: a healthy degree of mistrust toward an intelligence community that had long targeted black people.
Smith was a black man helming a story with implications easily read as universal. NSA agents broke into their home and destroyed it in search of the drive, making the break-in look like the work of teenage delinquents.
They manipulated evidence to make it seem like Dean had d an affair with a professional liaison, Rachel Banks Lisa Bonetigniting the ire of his wife. Dean, a respectable, taxpaying American citizen, is left with little recourse but to break the law in order to save his own life.
Anyone less savvy would have likely died, or simply been disappeared. The made-up happenings of the film presaged the revelations for which we have Snowden, The Guardian and The Washington Post to thank: that the NSA was secretly collecting data on innocent and unsuspecting American citizens, with little oversight or regard for privacy. The concerns raised by the film have only become more urgent.
Enemy of the State was able to communicate in a mainstream film what decades of black civil rights activists struggled to do after state officials maligned their credibility: a healthy degree of mistrust toward an intelligence community that had long targeted black people.