France-based web designer and software engineer Olivier Lacan has created a website called CanTheySeeMyD**k.com in order to explain NSA surveillance to the ordinary man on the street by putting it into the context of nude photos sent between users over mobile devices.
The website is based on an interview conducted by stand-up comedian John Oliver with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on Last Week Tonight, which aired on 5 April on HBO and where Oliver makes the point that most Americans do not understand what the NSA revelations are.
The segment is a call to arms for the public to contact their senators before the 1 June 2015 deadline passes to vote against the US Patriot Act, which grants the US government the right to carry out its spying programmes.
In the YouTube video of the show (not viewable in some countries), Oliver flew to Russia to have a chat with Edward Snowden about a topic that has not been often mentioned: what do the NSA revelations actually mean and how can government mass-surveillance be broken down in the simplest manner for the public?
Of course, being a comedian, Oliver's segment was full of hilarious gags but the key point of his interview with Snowden was the fact that he made the point most Americans do not care about foreign surveillance and many people do not even understand who Snowden is.
"I did this in order to give the American people a chance to decide for themselves the kind of government they want to have," Snowden told Oliver. "It's difficult for most people to even conceptualise, because most of the internet is invisible."
People only care about their nude photos
To that end, Oliver brought up penis photos in order to help people understand why the NSA surveillance is a big problem, and only then did people interviewed by the Last Week Tonight feel the government should not be able to see this information and become concerned about whether they are personally being spied on.
"This is the most visible line in the sand for most people," Oliver said. "Can they see my d**k?"
"Even if you send your d**k to someone within the United States, your wholly domestic communication between you and your wife can go from New York to London and back, and get caught up in the [NSA] database," Snowden replied.
"When you send your junk through Gmail, that's stored on Google's servers. Google moves data from data centre to data centre. Your data could be moved outside the USA temporarily, and when your junk was moved by Gmail, the NSA caught a copy of that. I guess I never thought about putting it in the context of... your junk."
Lacan has taken the relevant US laws discussed by Snowden and Oliver during the interview and made a website to spell out this essential question.
"I'm a software engineer and I have been following the Snowden revelation issues, but I had never seen a media outlet push Snowden to make things understandable for the public, rather than attacking him about whether his whistleblowing was legal and moral or not," Lacan, the creator of CanTheySeeMyD**k.com, told IBTimes UK.
"Now a very technical concept about data centres funnelling data from one data centre to another is now vivid in the minds of the public since the silly metaphors to put it in the context of my personal pictures shared with someone else with an expectation of privacy."
The simplified NSA explanation is working
Lacan says that although his website has not been online for long, it is clear this simplified approach of explaining the NSA revelations is getting through to people.
"After the video clip of the interview was put up on YouTube, loads of people reacted to it. It took me 25 minutes to make the website, and by the end of the first day of it being online, 41,500 people accessed the website. And today, we're not even halfway through the second day and there have been 26,500 people accessing it."
In the US, it is often difficult to prevent bills from being passed as votes are cast by state senators, but in 2012, the public backlash to the Stop Online Privacy Act (Sopa) by businesses, websites and citizens succeeded in preventing it from being passed into legislation.
"No one in Washington DC expected the reaction they received about Sopa. A few people managed to make the issue important for everyone," said Lacan, who studied in the US for several years. "But at least John Oliver has a few months for people to react to this. In France, we have just eight days for people to react strongly enough to get the French Surveillance Bill shut down."