The Surveilled Net – a retrospective

Through the early revelations, in June 2013, by the whistle blower Edward Snowden it became clear that for a long time the Internet had not been what we had thought it was: free. The size of the global surveillance by security agencies such as the NSA and GCHQ is so overwhelming that some are calling for a measurement of time: pre-Snowden and post-Snowden. Even today, the tide of the revelations has not ebbed off.

In co-operation with the  Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, re:publica 2014 dedicated a separate sub-conference to the topic of “net surveillance”: what impacts do the revealed surveillance systems have on the individual and society? Do we need effective constraints and controls on the security services? If yes, what could these look like? What concrete measures could be enacted on national and international levels to effectively assert citizen and human rights and constrain economic espionage?

Numerous renowned international speakers, including the Canadian security expert Ron Deibert, the Wikileaks activist Sarah Harrison, the US journalist Alexa O’Brien and Jacob Appelbaum from the TOR Project, joined the conference participants in searching for answers to these and many other questions.

We have collected some short insights into several exciting sessions as well as an overview on all sessions featured in the sub-conference “Surveilled Net”: 

WikiLeaks, Manning and Snowden: From USA to USB

The US journalist Alexa O’Brien was one of the few press representatives who was allowed to follow the trial of Chelsea Manning and created a comprehensive archive as a result. At #rp14 she interviewed Sarah Harrison, one of the forces behind Wikileaks and one of the closest confidants to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. For nearly an hour, the two talked about whistle blowing, Wikileaks and asylum for Snowden: "Governments are too scared – we've seen that in the statements coming out of the German government – to actually stand up for what is the right thing to do", Harrison answered to the question of why no one had so far offered asylum to Edward Snowden. 

You can find a full description here, as well as a video of the session.

Freedom and Prophecy: On the ethical limits of Big Data


 “Big Data helps us to better understand the world. Big Data also comes with a series of extraordinary dangerous challenges for us.”

In his talk, professor at the Oxford Internet Institute Viktor Mayer-Schönberger deals with Big Data, possible applications of it and its dangers, which we need to confront. The Austrian-born is particularly critical of the possibility of using Big Data to anticipate and predict behaviour. In order to counter the “end of forgetting”, he proposes: “To create data […], systems and tools, which have the ability to forget.”

You can find a full description, as well as a video of the session, here.

Security Services vs. Democracy 

"Compared to the security services, its oversight committee is utterly understaffed." Christian Flisek (SPD), MdB

Can we, as a democracy, afford to allow and keep security services? If yes, how can we effectively control them? Those were the central questions discussed by Markus Löning (the former human rights commissioner for the German federal government, currently the head of the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung’s 'Privacy Projects') Katja Gloger (journalist and board member of Reporter ohne Grenzen e.V.) and Christian Flisek (MdB, speaker for the SPD on the NSA parliamentary investigation committee).

The video of the session can be found  here.

Only a monster has Five Eyes

[Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRfb-Lp9OGg]

Eric King, Head of Research at  Privacy International, talks about the Five-Eyes-Alliance, a co-operation agreement between the security services of the USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which was uncovered in the Snowden revelations and which operates heavy surveillance of communication flowing through the Internet.

To the session description 

Data retention for beginners and advanced

[Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXOJSs_0Qa8]

Anna Biselli and Andre Meister from  netzpolitik.org offer an introduction and advanced insight into the what, who, where, how and why (not) of data retention.

To the session description 

All other session of the sub-conference “Surveilled Net” can be found  here – any recorded sessions can also be found there. 

Photos: cc-by-sa re:publica