This section lists and discusses all the technologies present in Citizenfour (2014).

  • Gnu Privacy Guard (GPG) (4:20) (Existing)

GPG is a commandline tool used for signing and encrypting data and communications across the internet to reduce the effects of bulk surveillance. Snowden used GPG to help him communicate with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, and director Laura Poitras. This secure method of communication helped Snowden expose many secrets of the NSA while staying hidden from the government’s surveillance [1]. Poitras used GPG in her movie to portray the sense of insecurity Snowden felt when using online communications.

  • Email servers / Lavabit (01:36:49) (Existing)

Lavabit is an encrypted webmail server that was used by Edward Snowden in order to hide his communications. Instead of exposing Snowden’s communications by giving up the encryption key to the government, Lavabit’s founder, Ladar Levison, shut down the service completely. It has recently started operating again (January 2017) as an open-source project under the name Dark Internet Mail Environment (DIME) [2, 7]. Since Lavabit shut down, many alternatives have since been developed such as Mailpile, ProtonMail, and Mailfence to allow internet users to communicate privately [8].

  • Telecommunications (Throughout the movie) (Existing)

The transmission of wired and wireless communications through signals, sound, and waves which are used to communicate through services like the telephone and radio. Snowden claims top internet and cellular service providers work with the NSA by allowing them backdoor access into these communications.

  • Internet – An interconnected network of computers sold as a service to end users from internet service providers.
  • Fax – The transmission of an image or text to a number associated with a fax machine.
  • Radio – A system that converts the amplitude and frequency of waves to sound.
  • Telephone – A device that transmits audio signals between two (or more) end users. Service providers such as Verizon were alleged to have created backdoor access for the government to access communications [4].
  • Video Communications – A communication between two users through utilizing both visual and audio on both ends.
  • Voice over IP – An internet communication protocol between two users for transmitting live audio.

  • Data Centers (8:48) (Existing)

Facilities used to store massive amounts of data. The government has many enormous data centers located in areas like Bluffdale, Utah to maintain information collected by the NSA and it’s allegedly partnered organizations.

  • Drone Surveillance/Streaming/Strikes (25:30) (Existing)

“A page of just lists and lists of drone feeds in all these different countries…” Snowden [movie] on NSA livestream drone surveillance. Although these streams are without context, the government still has the ability to monitor ‘anyone they deem a threat’ to national security.  Bae Systems is a government contracted organization that helped create the Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (ARGUS-IS). ARGUS-IS is one of the government’s unmanned surveillance drones. It can take 1.8 gigapixel images and archive them at 2.5/3.3 frames per second. It can surveillance an area up to 15-square-miles, track moving vehicles, and generate 3-D models from archived images [6]. In an official publishment, Greenwald mentions that the NSA combines geolocation of phone SIM cards with drone technology to make more precise strikes [3].

  • XKeyscore – person querying software(42:23) (Existing)

This program allows the NSA to query across billions of collected records ranging from VoIP data, account credentials, personal information, web searches, and private communications [4]. The collected data for this software is an aggregate information gained from government abused exploits, data collected through government mandated backdoors in internet and telephone service providers and large computer companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and existing government records. This data can be linked once accounts are connected. For example, using credit card information on a phone and then linking the same credit card to a  metrocard. Jacob Appelbaum, one of the creators of Tor, described this concept as ‘Linkability.’ All the government needs is a someone’s email, username, some bit of information that uniquely identifies them and they can start to connect the dots.

  • UDAQ (59:54) (Existing)

Another search tool used to query all of the data that is collected. It also includes documentation troubleshooting pages about tools the NSA uses [4].

  • TEMPORA (34:39) (Existing)

Britain’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), devised a system that extracted internet communications through secret fibre-optic interception points. The data is stored so that it can later be searched [4]. The interception points are located in the United Kingdom and anywhere between communication points under the knowledge of the owners of these points [5].

Works Cited:

[1] GnuPG. (2017, April 04). The GNU Privacy Guard. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

[2] Zetter, K. (2017, January 20). ENCRYPTED EMAIL SERVICE ONCE USED BY EDWARD SNOWDEN RELAUNCHES. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

[3] Gander, K. (2014, February 10). NSA ‘drone strikes based on mobile phone data’ Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

[4] “Citizenfour” (HBO Films, 2014) Poitras, L. (Director), & Bonnefoy, M. (Producer). (2014). Citizenfour [Video file]. United States: Radius-TWC. Retrieved April 1, 2017.

[5] Ball, J. (2013, October 25). Leaked memos reveal GCHQ efforts to keep mass surveillance secret. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

[6] Bae Systems. (2013). Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (ARGUS-IS) [Brochure]. Columbia, MD: Author.

[7] Levison, L. (2017, January 20). Lavabit. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

[8] (2014, August 05). Lavabit Alternatives. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from