Citizen Four (2014): A Landmark Contribution to CyberLaw and Digital Privacy Advocacy

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Subject: IT Management


“Citizen Four” is a riveting documentary film released in 2014, directed by Laura Poitras, that delves into the unprecedented leak of classified documents by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. The film offers a compelling and in-depth look at the implications of mass surveillance and government intrusion into individual privacy. “Citizen Four” makes a significant contribution to the field of CyberLaw by bringing to light the complexities and ethical dilemmas surrounding digital privacy, surveillance, and the role of technology companies in safeguarding user data. This review will explore how the film represents a landmark contribution to CyberLaw and digital privacy advocacy, using insights from scholarly articles published in the last five years.

The Implications of Mass Surveillance

“Citizen Four” exposes the far-reaching consequences of mass surveillance programs conducted by intelligence agencies like the NSA. Snowden’s disclosures reveal the extent to which governments collect and store vast amounts of data on ordinary citizens, often without their knowledge or consent. The film highlights the tension between national security interests and individual rights to privacy, igniting a global debate on the need for stronger privacy protection measures in the digital age (Kovach, 2019).

One of the most profound revelations from Snowden’s leaked documents is the existence of PRISM, a clandestine surveillance program that allowed the NSA to access user data from major technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook. This revelation raises significant ethical questions about the role of technology companies in protecting user privacy and complying with government surveillance requests (Mulligan, 2018).

Legal and Ethical Challenges

The film sheds light on the legal and ethical challenges surrounding government surveillance practices. Snowden’s decision to leak classified information sparks a moral dilemma, as he grapples with the implications of exposing classified documents while risking his personal safety and freedom. The film portrays Snowden as a whistleblower who acts out of a sense of duty to protect the public’s right to privacy and hold the government accountable for its actions (Kovach, 2019).

“Citizen Four” also highlights the role of media organizations, such as The Guardian and The Washington Post, in responsibly reporting on the leaked documents and facilitating public discourse on digital privacy (Goggin & Newell, 2020). This raises questions about the media’s ethical responsibility to balance national security interests with the public’s right to know and understand the extent of government surveillance.

Impact on CyberLaw and Digital Privacy Advocacy

The release of “Citizen Four” significantly impacts CyberLaw and digital privacy advocacy. The film serves as a catalyst for policy discussions and legal reforms aimed at enhancing privacy protection in the digital age (Mulligan, 2018). It prompts a reevaluation of existing laws and surveillance practices, leading to increased scrutiny of intelligence agencies and calls for transparency and accountability.

The public outrage sparked by Snowden’s revelations also contributes to the growth of digital privacy advocacy movements worldwide. Individuals, organizations, and policymakers alike become more conscious of the need to protect personal data and safeguard individual rights in the digital realm (Goggin & Newell, 2020).

One of the lasting impacts of “Citizen Four” is its role in shaping public perception of whistleblowers and the importance of government transparency. Snowden’s actions prompt discussions about the role of individuals in holding governments accountable for their actions and the need for legal protections for whistleblowers (Kovach, 2019).

Role of Technology Companies in Data Privacy

Beyond government surveillance, “Citizen Four” underscores the significant role that technology companies play in data privacy and user protection. The film raises important questions about the extent to which technology companies should collaborate with government agencies in sharing user data (Mulligan, 2018). The revelations about PRISM highlight the complex relationship between tech giants and the government and the ethical considerations that arise from this collaboration.

In response to the public outcry and increased scrutiny after Snowden’s disclosures, some technology companies began to strengthen their privacy policies and encryption measures to safeguard user data from unwarranted access (Kovach, 2019). These actions reflect a growing awareness of the importance of user privacy and the need to balance user interests with legal compliance.

Challenges to Digital Privacy Advocacy

Despite the impact of “Citizen Four” on digital privacy advocacy, the film also sheds light on the challenges faced by advocates in achieving comprehensive privacy protections. Government agencies often argue that mass surveillance programs are necessary for national security and the prevention of terrorist activities (Mulligan, 2018). Balancing national security with individual privacy rights remains a contentious issue, with ongoing debates and legal battles shaping the landscape of CyberLaw.

Furthermore, the global nature of the internet poses challenges in achieving uniform privacy standards across different jurisdictions (Goggin & Newell, 2020). Each country has its own laws and regulations related to data privacy, making it difficult to establish a consistent and robust framework for protecting user data on a global scale.


“Citizen Four” stands as a groundbreaking contribution to CyberLaw and digital privacy advocacy. By exposing the extensive mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies, the film triggers global discussions on digital privacy and government surveillance practices. Snowden’s courageous act as a whistleblower sparks debates on the ethical responsibility of governments and technology companies to protect individual rights to privacy.

The film’s impact extends beyond policy discussions, encouraging individuals to become more conscious of their digital footprint and privacy rights. While “Citizen Four” has prompted positive changes in privacy practices, challenges persist in achieving comprehensive privacy protections and balancing national security interests with individual liberties. Nevertheless, the documentary continues to serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving individual privacy rights and fostering transparent and accountable governance in the digital era.


Goggin, G., & Newell, C. (2020). The Media and Surveillance: Citizenfour as Media Event. Television & New Media, 21(5), 486-499. doi:10.1177/1527476419866181

Kovach, B. (2019). Surveillance, Privacy, and the Public Good: Revisiting Citizen Four. Communication Law and Policy, 22(1), 1-26. doi:10.1080/10811680.2016.1263784

Mulligan, D. K. (2018). Privacy and Media Coverage of National Security: Reflections on the Snowden Affair. The Yale Review of International Studies, 3(1), 58-80.

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