The first few minutes of Black Code give the impression this will be another doc about nefarious institutions collecting data to use it against you. While this remains true (as Edward Snowden taught us), Black Code does something much more stimulating: It shows examples of the government using technology to exert control over the population, and the citizens doing the same to counter it.
Inspired by the book “Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace” by University of Toronto professor Ronald Deibert, director Nicholas de Pencier uses a very academic approach. First, it explains the marriage between big data and big brother, how governments (normally not democracies) tap into data collection and how they use the info to shape public policy. Not the good kind.
From then one, Black Code goes on visiting countries where this strategy has led to oppression. Tibetan dissidents were among the first ones to be targeted by Chinese malware and surveillance. Now, the faithful are giving testimony of the persecution using the Internet. In Pakistan, access to the web is severely restricted (it may give people ideas) and organizations advocating free access are victims of targeted acts of violence. In Brazil, live streaming has become an effective countermeasure against police brutality and false arrests.
Ultimately, Black Code endorses hacktivism and holding governments and institutions accountable (which is kind of a given, but a reminder doesn’t hurt). Excellent interviews, research and footage give this documentary a leg up over similar films. In spite of including subjects that have put their life on the line and some intense visuals, the end product left me cold. Then again, I’ll take it over emotionally charged docs without actual substance. You know who you are. 3.5/5 prairie dogs.
Black Code opens Thursday, April 20th at the RPL.