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The TV Shows That Prepared Us for the NSA Scandal

Assessing a decade of surveillance television

If the details of the NSA scandal have seemed eerily familiar, perhaps it’s because TV drama has been playing out similar scenarios for years. The past decade has seen a flood of national-security related TV shows that refract our anxieties du jour and offer different spins on the hazards of big data and the assorted ways we justify privacy invasion in the name of national security. In recent years technology has morphed from a snazzy instrument in the game of taking out enemies, as it was in most Cold-War-era spy shows, into a threat in and of itself. Elsewhere, PRISM-esque technology serves as a deus ex machina, a quick and justified way to solve crimes and thwart terrorism. If you want to fuel your paranoia about the national security apparatus, here’s what to watch—and how they stack up against the real thing.

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