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Beyond borders

Highlights from the student-organized IWB conference

- March 7, 2014

Ron Deibert presents at the IWB conference. (Candice Wong photo)
Ron Deibert presents at the IWB conference. (Candice Wong photo)

Ron Deibert believes that we’re in the midst of an extraordinary moment in the history of human communication — and a deeply concerning one.

“At the very same time that we’re in the midst of turning our digital lives inside out, the most powerful surveillance machinery is turning inwards on all of us — a surveillance machine whose overarching intention is to shield itself from public scrutiny, to barely acknowledge its own existence, to operate in a cloak of secrecy,” explained Dr. Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto.

“To me, that is profound, and we’re going through this right now but we’re not having a large public conversation about it. We need to in this country.”

Dr. Deibert was the keynote speaker at Dal’s Information Without Borders conference last month, organized by students in the School of Information Management. The annual one-day event fosters interdisciplinary discussion connecting the various professions within the Faculty of Management and beyond.

“You get invited to a student-led conference about interdisciplinarity and information… how much better can it get for a morning, really?” said Carolyn Watters, vice-president academic and provost, who kicked off the event.

Inside the complex

Dr. Deibert’s keynote offered a disconcerting look at the rise of what he referred to as the “cyber security industrial complex” — a web of surveillance that dramatically accelerated post-9/11 and which the Edward Snowden leaks have shed new light on.

“I’ve heard that at the rate these documents are being released and covered in the media, it would take 46 years for all of them to be covered, so huge is the cache he took… We’re going to be living in the world of Snowden for a long time, and it will set the context for what we’ll do.”

The confluence of cloud computing, mobile technology and social media means that information that used to be stored in filing cabinets and desktop computers is now shared with third parties, many of which are in other jurisdictions — and some of which we’re not always conscious of. Dr. Deibert argued in favour of greater transparency and accountability for both government and the private sector when it comes to Internet surveillance, as well as an encouraging activities that lift the lid on the nefarious side of the Internet. He called this trend “Hactivism,” saying that, “the hacker ethos is essential to liberal democracy… we need to retake its positive meaning.”  

In addition to other speakers, the event included presentations from students Marc Harper, Hilary Lynd and Lee Wilson. Harper presented on information control and human rights violations in North Korea; Lynd discussed privacy and civil liberties; and Wilson explored privacy in the age of social media.

For more on the conference, visit its website.


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