Would you give a complete stranger who walked up to you on the street access to all the personal data on your phone?
Ad agency Don't Panic stages such a scenario in an amusing video for Liberty Human Rights. The PSA is designed to raise awareness of the sweeping nature of Britain's Investigatory Powers Bill. Derisively known as the Snoopers' Charter, the controversial legislation would allow the government to intercept all manner of digital communications and information.
Shot in London's bustling Soho Square, the two-minute clip, titled "Show Me Yours," stars comedian Olivia Lee, who gets up in people's faces as she demands to see their phones and peruse their data.
"I'm just, you know, hacking people's phones and having a browse," she blithely explains. "I just want to build a detailed picture of who you are—your emails, your texts, your call history, your photos."
At one point, she leans over a guy's shoulder, eyes his smartphone screen, and cheekily inquires, "Tinder and Grindr?" Later, at an outdoor cafe, she sits next to a different dude and asks, "Is that your doctor you've been emailing?"
Lee even carries a mini antenna rig and claims to be accessing people's bank accounts. When a passerby tells her to "Just go fuck yourself," she responds, "But sweetheart, if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear!"
Shots of storefront surveillance cameras—staples of most busy shopping districts these days, and ubiquitous in London—heighten the Orwellian vibe.
Ultimately, Lee meanders into a government Home Office lobby with her antenna and announces, "I'm just hacking your server." Predictably, she's escorted from the premises by government security personnel.
In the end, viewers are directed to use the campaign's #SnoopersCharter hashtag to get more information.
While not as emotionally stirring as Don't Panic's acclaimed efforts for Save the Children or Human Appeal, this stunt's aggressive comic style effectively re-personalizes the digital privacy debate. When Lee gets up close with random subjects and pries into their dating habits, medical issues and bank accounts, she takes the issue out of the abstract realm and makes it personal again.
It's tough to be apathetic when the data collector is standing right in front of you, ogling your mobile screen and shouting in your ear. (Also, Liberty should take heart that some subjects chose to have their faces blurred rather than sign waivers to appear on camera. Guess they had some privacy concerns.)
Now, in some cases, data captures are essential in fighting the war on terror. That said, if society doesn't draw a line, abuses of power and rampant or casual snooping are all but assured. At the very least, "Show Me Yours" should inspire viewers to consider such notions, while providing some pointed laughs in the bargain.
After all, we've all got "something to hide," even if it's just innocuous personal trivia we'd rather not share. Telling the government to "Just go fuck yourself" when it encroaches on our liberties without due cause should be every citizen's right.
AdFreak spoke with director Jolyon Rubinstein about the project:
Why do a this kind of video stunt?
We wanted something that really grabbed people by their proverbial nuts. We like to employ jeopardy to give films that WTF quality. The Snoopers' Charter is a complex topic, so we created a living breathing personification of the bill itself to make it more personal.
Was it a very challenging or complex shoot?
With hidden camera comedy, you're always flirting with disaster and hoping for brilliance. It was all about making sure the wonderful Olivia Lee was both charming and offensive to all the members of the public we approached. Our phones have become extensions of our bodies, and we talked a lot to Olivia before the shoot about how invasive and personal that object has become to each and every one of us. It was playing on that tension that made the film work.
We shot the film in central London, areas that we knew would be full of people rushing around, using their phones or on their laptops at lunch, and not really expecting any interaction, especially such an extreme and bizarre interaction.
Of course, a few people did get very upset. We found one guy watching porn on his lunch break! But once we explained the reasons for the film, the response became a positive one.
Why visit the Home Office?
The Home Office is at the center of the debate and so [it was] the perfect place to set the film's crescendo. We only shot on GoPros—disguised in take-away coffee cups. They didn't know what was going on! Needless to say, they were not happy to see us. Our favorite moment was how seriously they took the "data capture device," asking us to turn it off, and of course how uncomfortable they were with us trying to access their information. Talk about double standards.
As a viewer, what's my big takeaway?
Shock and anger, followed by signing up to Liberty's campaign. We want people to appreciate how invasive this bill will be, and for them to understand that it is not a case of privacy or security—both are important, and both are under threat.
Agency: Don't Panic
MD: Joe Wade
Director: Jolyon Rubinstein
Producer: Errol Ettienne
Project lead: Nisha Mullea
Project manager: Gabriel Mathews
Talent: Olivia Lee
Creative Director: Richard Beer
Creative: George McCullum
Creative: Alistair Griggs
Creative: Eva Steiner
Senior Editor: Jamie Ticker
Filmographer: Ryan Samuda