Snowden: NSA Not (Specifically) Looking for Your Nude Photos

Charles Platiau/AP

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Americans are largely bored with conversations about surveillance reform. What about when it touches on their most intimate communications?

HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver’s amazingly uncomfortable, yet highly interesting interview with National Security Agency secrets-leaker Edward Snowden frames government surveillance in a context any American can understand: nude photos.

It’s been almost two years since Snowden, a former NSA contractor, spilled some of the intelligence community’s biggest surveillance secrets, but wide-scale surveillance reform hasn’t happened yet.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which gives formal authorities for some of the surveillance undertaken by the intelligence community, is set to expire in June. Oliver senses a potential tipping point in surveillance reform. The only problem is, Oliver said, most Americans’ eyes glaze over when government surveillance comes up because it’s technically complex.

So Oliver flew to Russia, interviewed Snowden and tied the murky subject of government surveillance to something tangible everyone knows about: Your nude pictures. Of course, being on HBO, Oliver used a more colorful rhyming phrase.

Oliver reasoned that having Snowden explain government surveillance programs in terms of how they might intercept your naked photos would be more likely to call the public to action.

Snowden played along and the results were pretty hilarious.

“The good news is, there is no government program named ‘The Dick Pic program,’” Snowden said. “The bad news is, they are still collecting everybody’s information, including your dick pics.”

Oliver’s unique approach on technology issues has been effective in the past. His net neutrality explainer helped drive national attention -- and a whole lot of public comments -- to the Federal Communications Commission.

Perhaps his unique -- and potentially not-safe-for-work -- methodology will pique the interest of a public that doesn’t get technological complexity but most definitely understands the pitfalls of sending naked photos.