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Talking Must-See Doc ‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’: NSA Spying, and Reading the Unsettling Fine Print (TRAILER)

Talking Must-See Doc 'Terms and Conditions May Apply': NSA Spying, and Reading the Unsettling Fine Print (TRAILER)

Cullen Hoback hasn’t really had a proper home for the last
year — “Keeping the government on its toes,” the director jokes. Sort of: He
knows that they know that he knows that they probably knew where he was all the

Hoback’s documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” is,
in part, an operations manual for the 21st Century tech-savvy human. Have you
ever signed an online user agreement? Of course you have. Have you ever read
the fine print? Of course you haven’t. As one learns via the film, if any of us
web-browsing hipsters ever actually read what we were agreeing to, it would
take us 180 hours a year. 

And what’s in there? As “Terms and Conditions” tells
it, the U.K.-based Game Station included a clause in its 2009 user agreement
that included loss of the signees immortal soul. They collected 7,000 souls
before changing the wording. Which no one reads.

But Hoback’s doc, which was two years in the making, is also
about government surveillance, the NSA, the complicity of social networking sites and Google. It was completed well before the emergence of Edward
Snowden, whose revelations are a mixed blessing for Hoback: On one hand, the
fugitive Booze-Allen factotum kick-started the conversation about privacy and
our lack of it. On the other, he’s helped reveal how apathetic Americans
actually are.

“The conversation is
being controlled by people in very high places,” Hoback cautioned, “and I think
public support was more on Snowden’s side earlier, before he started plane
hopping to countries with which we have a mixed history.”

Still, he said, the
threat is real. And kind of embarrassing. “We were screening in San Francisco
not long ago, which is the nexus of technology,” Hoback said, “and there were
plenty of people from Google including this one fellow, who was from China, who
said, ‘I had no idea that this was going on.”’ 

He proceeded to tell Hoback that
in China’s version of Twitter, the user would be censored in real time for
writing something objectionable. “What I thought was fascinating is that what
we’ve done in America is more insidious, because we’ve had the sense that the
government HASN’T been monitoring everything. The greatest trick the NSA ever
pulled was making us think they weren’t spying on us. The Chinese guy said, ‘I
thought America was so much different from China.’”

Hoback, who has launched the film’s website, said if there was an overarching concept to the doc,
“it was wanting the audience to be the main character and have it go on a
traditional three-act journey.” Of course, the more Hoback dug up, the more he
had to modify the structure. “I think for most people, the film plays out the
way making it played out for me,” he said. “Just realizing how we got here, and
how deep it all goes.”

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