Snowden revelations and NSA surveillance under scrutiny in FLJS book colloquium

06 May 2015
The revelations of whistle-blower Edward Snowden about the extent and nature of surveillance undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA) were the focus of analysis at Wolfson College yesterday, when a panel convened by FLJS discussed the recent book by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State
The panel, chaired by Professor Denis Galligan, made a number of arguments to critique the book and discuss the question of the appropriate degree of intelligence activity necessary to protect national security without undermining fundamental civil liberties through over-aggressive and indiscriminate collection of personal communications.
Issues addressed included the changing nature of the relationship between the state and the citizen and the dampening effect on free speech and thought that mass surveillance of the kind unveiled by Snowden can bring about. The failure of oversight of intelligence agencies by publicly elected representatives was identified as a cause for concern, and led the panel to question the ability of legal and judicial means to ensure that appropriate boundaries are not overstepped. 
The increased power of key media players such as Facebook and Google, and their collusion with intelligence agencies in releasing data collected from their billions of users, was the subject of further debate. Despite claims that intelligence-gathering efforts are conducted purely in the public interest, panellists expressed concerns that corporations also stood to benefit from such data, and that industrial espionage was likely to account for much of the perceived abuses.
Having explored the political and theoretical origins of the issues at hand, including analysis of Hillary Clinton’s 2010 speech on internet freedoms which was said to have heralded the beginning of the ‘internet Cold War’, the discussion was opened to questions from the floor. 
The event was one of a series of book colloquia held each term at Wolfson College, further details of which can be seen at our Programmes Pages.