Snowden: Big Data, Security and Human Rights

On April 5, 2016, Simon Fraser University hosted a live stream of Edward Snowden: Big Data, Security and Human Rights.  The talk had Mr Snowden live streamed from Russia and a panel of experts on the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.  The host was Laura Lynch from CBC.

Panama Papers

First topic was the Panama Papers data disclosure.  This is one the broadest exposures of data from a law firm that helped people around the globe avoid paying taxes.  An anonymous person leaked the papers to journalists.  Is this a crime?  One could argue yes … attorney/client privilege. Was it the right thing to do ethically? Yes

“The participation of the public is necessary to achieve change.” Snowden

The NSA had moved to a “pre-criminal” approach of gathering billions of transactions daily of US citizens.  Snowden saw this as a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

For more information on the Panama Papers see:


Discussion about the risks of Whatsapp – which had natively poor security.   Whatsapp added encryption to protect their customers today – Apr 24, 2016.  This is a huge plus for security and protection of privacy for all users of Whatsapp.

FBI wanted to establish a precedent around the Apple IPhone unlocking story.   The government had the ability to hack the phone because it had access to the hardware.   Building a backdoor in encryption software is opening Pandora’s box.

When you make a backdoor to one country you do it for every country. Snowden

Big Data Use by Governments

Big Data use by governments to screen for potential terrorists.  Question asked by Michael Vonn – Do mass analytics actually work to find terrorists or are people finding ways to make the numbers work to prove their case?

So far the data has never resulted in the conviction of a terrorist.  Terrorism is the public justification of using big data for espionage and more importantly social control. PRISM system had a $20M annual cost.

The USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand all work together to collaborate on cyber security and information sharing.

Once someone comes to your attention, you have complete control of their data.

Canadian Anti-terrorism Act 2015 – Bill C51 – FOI request show that Canadian security firms did not ask for this high level of access.  Did the USA ask for this?  The USA spends over $75M USD per year on monitoring.

Peter Chow-White – we generate data in all our actions today and someone is collecting that data.  An example is credit reporting bureaus and life insurance companies.

Data protection stops at your country’s borders and we live in a digital world.  We need a global approach like encryption.  Far more people are impacted by cybercrime than terrorists.

“Technology has worked as a sword against the public in many ways. But it can also work as a shield.” – @Snowden #Snowden #BigData

“If we don’t have privacy, we don’t have the sanctity of our own lives.” Snowden

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by Leo de Sousa