The revelations of the National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance raised lots of complicated questions for even the most tech-savvy and politically aware among us. Don’t spies have better things to do than snoop my Gmail and Facebook? Is there a strange man watching me through my little laptop camera? Are we living in The Matrix ? The basic takeaway was that We Are All Being Watched, but why and how and by who wasn’t automatically clear.
“The NSA and Surveillance Made Simple,” a new animation in the Guardian’s Made Simple series, boils down the basics of these Big Brother-like tactics, with sneaky spy-movie jazz as a soundtrack. “The surveillance story will come to be seen as the biggest technology story of the decade, but it has seemed so complicated that the wider public–outside an engaged, techno-literate community–haven’t known quite where to start,” Jemima Kiss, head of yechnology at the Guardian and the animation’s narrator, tells Co.Design.
Using cartoon spies in trench coats and dark glasses, the animation addresses key questions: How do they do it? What do they do with the information? Does privacy have a future online at all? Avoiding jargon and assumed knowledge, the video makes the NSA story accessible for anyone.
“The Guardian has published hundreds of stories on the NSA, GCHQ, and surveillance, so paring down the core story was actually incredibly hard,” Kiss says. “There’s a balance between [staying] accurate and not being too reductive with the narrative. But we were also quite keen to keep the tone light, witty, and engaging.” Scriberia, the animators, decided to reference popular reality show The Great British Bake Off by filling the video with cartoon cupcakes riding down conveyor belts full of suspicious red envelopes.
The video reveals how the NSA taps cables and uses relationships with technology companies like Facebook to gain access to personal information like email addresses and messages. “I’m particularly pleased with the scene with the guy embracing the lady who turns into a bomb, plus the NSA sucking up everybody and everything at the end,” Kiss says of her favorite parts. A tweeting bird trapped in a cage visualizes the end of the anarchic freedom that once characterized the Internet. Now that you know that you’re being watched, how does this affect the way you communicate and how much you trust the world around you?