The Power of Privacy: review

The Guardian and Silent Circle have teamed up to bring 'The Power of Privacy',a look at the world of cyber-security and the future of our data.

Martin Bos and Khalil Sehnaoui, veteran hackers and stars of The Power of Privacy
Martin Bos and Khalil Sehnaoui, veteran hackers and stars of The Power of Privacy

The film, The Power of Privacy, offers a quick tour through the world of cyber-threats, but not at all a shallow one. Made by the Guardian, a newspaper famously hot on the subject of privacy, in conjunction with Silent Circle, an encrypted communications firm and the creator of the Blackphone. Tech journalist and social psychologist, Alex Krotoski offeris the layman a rundown of the current threat landscape. SC was invited to see a long cut of the film.


 Aleks Krotoski in documentary film, The Power of Privacy

One particularly illuminating scene shows Krotoski get phished, or perhaps whaled, by a couple wiley veteran hackers. Sent an urgent email by her boss, or so she thinks, Krotoski is redirected to the front page of the Guardian to check on the apparent emergency detailed in the email.

However, there's no emergency and the page she's on is merely a cloned live version of the Guardian home page, hosted on a website called ‘the guardlian', a name bought by the hackers. By then, shes caught with her figurative throat under the figurative heel of the the ‘guardlians'. Luckily, this is all for show.

The Power of Privacy offers a substantial, if broad, rundown of the current threat landscape as it stands for individuals and enterprises alike. Krotoski visits LA, where she's presented with heavy dossier of all the information she's willingly, and some she's unwillingly, offered to the great maw of the internet.  She even ventures as far as Japan to investigate some of the problems surrounding the growth of the smart home.

But this is not a documentary simply about the wonders and threats of the coming age. Rather it attempts, through a series of animated segments, to route themes so incumbent upon the digital world through human history. Cryptography, the film explains, can be found in in early potters trying to protect their glazing recipes. Privacy, on the other hand, is a relatively modern phenomenon, entering into public consciousness with middle class houses and the separate rooms that came with them.

SCMagazineUK.com had the good fortune to talk to Jon Callas, CTO of Silent Circle which made the film in partnership with the Guardian. Silent Circle had “been talking about doing things together because we wanted to find seombody using this news organisation that shared our values.” Who better then than the newspaper that broke the Snowden revelations to evangelise about privacy? A lot of what the duo were trying to do is to get awareness out, not just to the consumer, but to “those who are creating these devices.” Smart Homes for example, which the film talks about in depth, may well be the new attack surface by which adversaries don't just steal our account details but monitor our physical lives.

“A lot of these things are being made because they're cool” but less often is security thought about from the ground up or sometimes even at all, a point which the film makes rather finely. It might be sponsored, but The Power of Privacy is very much a piece of public interest journalism.  Callas told SC, that his feeling was “if consumers don't know to ask what are you doing with my data, "then the people who provide the services that divert personal data to perhaps unwanted places, “will say that consumers don't care.”