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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.12.13] documentary

The phrase "Big Brother is watching" is heard frequently and often graces the news headlines but of late, privacy issues have become a hot topic of discussion and more people are starting to take notice. Recent news that the NSA is spying on American citizens was quickly followed up by French media who uncovered a similar operation in France. It's safe to assume that everyone is being watched. All of those point cards, free downloads, your cell phone data, what you bought for lunch... somewhere that data is being stored. What's interesting and frankly frightening, is how much of the information we are giving away, in many cases without even realizing it.

Terms and Conditions May Apply is likely the scariest documentary I'll see this year because it focuses on something I and millions of others give away every day: our personal data. Every search term, every click, every text message, every phone conversation is being stored on some hard drive somewhere and I allowed it to happen. I clicked "Agree" when I downloaded Chrome and proceeded to connect all of my Google services and now Google knows everything about my life online. Facebook automatically shares my personal data with the entire world unless I tell it not to and even when you think you've deleted your account, that data remains on file somewhere at Facebook HQ.

So what's all that data good for anyways? It's all supposed to be anonymous but as director Cullen Hoback discovers, none of it is every really anonymous and what's worse, it's now easier than ever for agencies to gain access to it. Data that once required warrants is now freely available or easily attained from third parties and you'll never be the wiser. What's worse is that much of that data is decoded and acted upon with little if any human oversight leading to both embarrassing and frightening situations.

Hoback's documentary paints a scary picture of the state of privacy. The word itself seems to have lost its meaning and been co-opted and turned into a business for the benefit of a few and while there is certainly reason for heightened security, the question must be asked: at what cost? The loss of privacy seems to go hand in hand with the quickly expanding technology market and it seems that the faster that market grows, the faster we lose any semblance of privacy. We're already at a point where the only thing that remains truly private are the thoughts in our head but soon they too will be monitored and acted on. The pre-cog future of Minority Report isn't as far fetched as we'd like to think.

Using a combination of C-Span footage, animation and interviews, Hoback delivers a documentary that is both entertaining and heavy with information. It covers a lot of bases and makes a lot of points but stops just short of entering conspiracy theory territory though it does open those doors. The question of privacy has become even more of an issue in the years since September 2011 and Terms and Conditions May Apply makes a point of noting that the privacy "business" has grown exponentially since then. Let's just say that maybe some of those conspiracy theories about 9/11 don't sound as far fetched as they did before.

What's really at stake here is freedom and though we're better off than many other countries, our complacency is scary. Simply saying that we don't care because we don't have anything to hide isn't good enough. It's leading to a society that doesn't care about their freedom and who won't recognize the loss of it until it's too late to turn back. Terms and Conditions May Apply should be mandatory viewing for everyone, regardless of whether you use social media or not.

Terms and Conditions May Apply opens in NY today and expands to more cities in the coming weeks. Full screening schedule is available on the website.

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