“All information can be used against you in some way. And we have an entire generation, the first one ever, about whom everything will be known. Their entire youth is being monitored. And we don’t know what that might mean. How that might be used against them. I look at my father who is 80 and he has only known democracy for the shortest portion of his life. And that is why we have to act now. We have the power to change things. I remember how hopeless it seemed, 25 years ago, that it would ever change. But it did. And we did that. We, the people. And that is why it’s up to us Germans to tell this to the world.”
She is such a powerful, clear, impassioned voice. And it’s obvious that for her, this is personal. “I feel responsible. I feel like I look into one of those glass balls, where others see fog, I see a clear picture and I feel obliged to tell people. These are the tools of a totalitarian system. And just as you cannot be a little bit pregnant so you cannot be a little bit totalitarian without corrupting democracy. And we … in this city … we know where that ends up. We have seen the darkest times, right here.”
Poitras tells me how she has come to censor herself. “It’s not whether or not they’re watching, but the fact that you don’t know if they’re watching. You’ve internalised in some way this authority of the state.” At the end of the interview, I tell her how Snowden spoke at the Observer Festival of Ideas and how afterwards I and my colleague John Naughton asked him questions via Google Hangouts from my laptop. “Am I on the grid?” I ask her.