A (Virtual) Evening with Edward Snowden24 May 2016
“Privacy is the right to self… Privacy is the right to individuality.”
Last night I was lucky enough to attend a live-streamed virtual interview with Edward Snowden. I wasn’t sure what to expect. In September last year, I went to an interview with Julian Assange set up in a similar way and the experience left me somewhat deflated. It’s difficult to engage an audience over a computer screen and thousands of kilometers, and I wasn’t sure how Snowden would fare. My concern was unnecessary.
The evening was put together by Think Inc, an event company who specializes in bringing public intellectuals to tour in Australia. It’s incredible that no one had thought of this before, because in the two years that these guys have been in business, they’ve brought us the likes of Dr Neil de Grasse Tyson, Dr Brian Green, Sam Harris, Bill Nye and Majid Nawaz. This is big business.
Held at The Plenary, the interview was conducted by The Chaser’s Julian Morrow who spoke to Edward-Snowden-cum-computer- screen-on-wheels while for the benefit of the audience, Snowden was projected onto a cinema-sized screen. The interview lasted just over an hour and the remaining thirty minutes or so was dedicated to audience questions.
For anyone who’s been living under the proverbial rock for the last three years, Edward Snowden is an American whistleblower who’s been hiding out in Russia for the last two years. Snowden previously worked as a cyber security specialist for the NSA but left his job in order to leak thousands of US government documents showing the horrific extent of indiscriminate government surveillance over the previous ten years.
Privacy, Snowden says, is the basis of all human rights. It is the right to the self and to individuality. Without a private space, it is not possible for people to think for themselves, to challenge the status quo, to ask questions, to grow. Without private spaces for individuals, we become a closed society, ideas stagnate and progress stops.
In talking to his Melbourne audience, Snowden commented on Australia’s metadata laws, our treatment of asylum seekers offshore and out of sight and our position in the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance (US, UK, Canada and New Zealand being the other four ‘eyes’. The eyes have an agreement to share our metadata with one another. Supposedly this is to stop terrorism; however Australia was recently discovered to be spying on the metadata of a law firm in the US. We were spying on negotiations regarding the sale price of clove cigarettes in Indonesia). Snowden also encouraged his audience to take notice, take interest and take action. His advice is especially pertinent with federal elections coming up on the 2nd of July. It is vital that we take a stand against mass surveillance before we’re any further along this particular slippery slope.
Disclaimer: Farrago was given a free media pass by Think Inc. to attend this event.