In his interview with Playboy for the October issue of the magazine, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt had some interesting things to say about Edward Snowden (whom he plays in the upcoming movie Snowden), that film’s director Oliver Stone, spy chief James Clapper, Google, Facebook, the Sony hack and personal privacy.
Specifically, about Snowden, the well-spoken actor told interviewer David Hochman, “No matter how you feel about mass surveillance or online privacy or any of that, the government was doing things that were against its own rules and doing them in secret and lying about it, which is why Snowden’s role in releasing the information was so valuable.”
Gordon-Levitt added, “There is no evidence that Edward Snowden’s documents gave away any specific locations or specific names that put people in jeopardy. Critics say these generic things, but then they can’t come up with any examples.”
So, you know, just your usual Hollywood stuff.
Highlights from the Playboy Interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt:
On Oliver Stone
What the haters don’t understand is that his opinions are formed completely out of patriotism. He has a very deep love for this country and what America is meant to stand for. It’s not patriotic to just sit back and let the country you love do something wrong.
I feel the same way. I’m so grateful to have been born and raised here, and for the freedoms and opportunities that have been afforded me, which I wouldn’t have gotten were I born in most other places in the world. But I also want to raise my hand and say so if the principles that are the foundation of what our country is about are being violated. The government is not supposed to be the one with the power. That’s the whole principle of democracy, of the United States, of the American Revolution, the American experiment, you could say. The people are supposed to be the ones in control. The government serves them. The Edward Snowden story exemplifies that. It’s a chilling example.
On Whether Edward Snowden is a Traitor or a Hero
First of all, there is no evidence that Edward Snowden’s documents gave away any specific locations or specific names that put people in jeopardy. Critics say these generic things, but then they can’t come up with any examples.
You can read so many different opinions, and at first, I immersed myself in all of them. When Oliver asked me to play the role of Snowden, I didn’t know much about the story. I didn’t know the difference between Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and Bradley/Chelsea Manning. But as I delved deeply into the reading, a couple of things struck me. First, no matter how you feel about mass surveillance or online privacy or any of that, the government was doing things that were against its own rules and doing them in secret and lying about it, which is why Snowden’s role in releasing the information was so valuable. Our government was lying.
On Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
There’s a guy named James Clapper who is currently our director of national intelligence. He reports to the president, oversees national intelligence—meaning the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. James Clapper was called before Congress and raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth, as you do when you testify before Congress. A senator asked him whether the NSA collects millions of phone calls, e-mails and text messages on American citizens. Clapper answered, “No, sir.” That’s what he said to a senator who was elected to be the representative of the people.
On whether he (Gordon-Levitt) Met Snowden
Pauses I can’t say. Sorry. I read everything I could and watched every video I could. Certainly the documentary Citizenfour was a huge asset because you get to see what he’s like when he’s not giving a talk, when he’s not doing an interview. But also, some of the movie takes place when he’s much younger, so a lot of what I had to do was the kind of work I do as an actor, which is to try to use empathy and inference. How would this person be then? How would he feel? That’s what I was doing with Philippe as well as with Snowden.
It’s not paranoia. It’s just a fact that right now the U.S. government is able to see anything it wants to see in regard to anything digital. Some of the stuff starts to sound paranoid because it’s so extreme, but it’s real.
Well, for instance holds up his cell phone, the government could be listening to us right now in this hotel room if it wanted to.
Even Though It’s Not On?
Correct. If the phone is out of batteries it won’t work, but I’ve been told they could be watching you right now on this smartphone camera or on the camera on your laptop. They can do that. I put a Band-Aid on my webcam. Does that look paranoid? You know, if it weren’t a known fact that this occurs, it might be. And by the way, it’s not just the U.S. government. It’s also Google. It’s Facebook. Those companies are at least as aggressive as the NSA.
More on Google and Facebook
One of the most important revelations from Snowden is that Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube, Twitter, Skype, Yahoo were all collaborating with the NSA. When that news came out, most of the companies denied it. They all just lied. Again, a lot of people in this story are just unashamed to lie. But when it became clear they were lying, they started to act all indignant, saying they were pressured into it.
The truth is, the business model for companies like Google and Facebook is they spy on you. They collect all that information and then sell it to advertisers. When I say spy on you, I don’t just mean they track what you search for. They certainly do that, but if you’ve used Google there’s stuff on your computer that Google has put there that you don’t know about. Data travels from your computer to Google’s databases all day long, whether you’re using Google or not, whether you have your web browser open or not. It doesn’t matter. It just does it. Unless you’re very technically savvy and able to block those things, you’re being spied on. These people can get inside your computers. We can’t forget that.
On the Sony Hack
The situation scared me at first because I’m friends with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg [co-directors of The Interview, the film widely believed to have prompted the Sony information breach]. I was actually with Evan the day some of the news broke, and he was like, “Oh shit, we’re going to have to get security or whatever.” That was scary.
Ultimately, it’s less scary but more of a wake-up call. It’s really a reminder, like, let’s all pay attention to this, folks. Our whole way of life is largely attached to how we interact with these digital systems. We should be paying attention to that and asking questions about how these systems work.
On His Own Privacy
I use an app called Signal, which you can download for free. It will encrypt text and phone calls with other people who use the app. So if for whatever reason you want to talk or text without anyone tracking you, whether it’s the NSA or Google, that’s an easy answer. Honestly, I should do more. I feel we should all do more. I don’t like the nagging feeling in the back of my head when I’m writing an e-mail to somebody and thinking, man, is this going to get out?
Read the Gordon-Levitt interview in its entirety here.