John Oliver recently interviewed Edward Snowden about government surveillance, and in his inimitable style explained the seriousness of the issue with hilarious absurdity. On the show, Oliver mentions that a recent PewResearchCenter survey report revealed that 46% of Americans were either ‘not very concerned’ or ‘not at all concerned’ about govt surveillance. So, to explain what it could mean for the regular Internet user, Oliver asked Snowden if the various surveillance programs (PRISM, MYSTIC, etc) could access a user’s personal photos (read photos of a certain body part).

And boy were they worried and outraged that the government could have their naked pictures. Some of the reactions were: “this is an invasion of my privacy”, “I would want that program shut down”, “I would want it to be tweaked, to have clear and transparent laws”, and “I would want to know what they were being used for and why they were being kept” among others. Obviously there’s no such program to exclusively collect citizens’ naked pics, but as Snowden put it “they’re (government) still collecting everybody’s information, including your naked pics.”

As usual, the show was full of gags and satirical jabs, but what it accomplished brilliantly was to break down a much needed debate about an exceedingly complex issue in order make regular Internet users aware of the repercussions.

Oliver began the show by talking about Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the US government to demand telecom companies to hand over information, including user phone records, if it’s deemed to be essential “for an investigation to protect against international terrorism.” This provision is set to expire on June 1. The US govt says that using Section 215 they only acquire, for example, phone numbers and call duration and not the identity of the caller or content of the calls. But that data can easily be used to extrapolate more information.

Govt surveillance in India

It’s not too different in India: Last year, an RTI application revealed that on an average around 7500 – 9000 telephone interception orders are issued by the central government every month. We also have our own surveillance programs, like NETRA, NATGRID and CMS among others. Read more here. India is also an approved SIGNIT partner with the NSA.