Julian Assange on Digital Sovereignty and Surveillance at #NETmundial2014

Natália Viana, Sérgio Amadeu,  Roy Singhay, Jacob Appelbaum. Picture by @WebWeWant at Twitter

Natália Viana, Sérgio Amadeu, Roy Singhay, Jacob Appelbaum. Photo by @WebWeWant via Twitter.

Last week in São Paulo, Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Natália Viana, Sérgio Amadeu, and Roy Singhay came together to speak on digital sovereignty and surveillance in the age of Internet. Their panel was the most popular event at the Arena, the official side venue for last week's NETmundial meeting.

Natália Viana, founder of the Public Agency of Investigative Journalism and the principal liaison between Brazil and Wikileaks, remarked on a peculiar way in which surveillance was (and was not) discussed at the NETmundial. “To not speak of espionage and surveillance is to deny the white elephant in the room,” she said, echoing feelings of concern that many participants had shared throughout the week. Viana called on the Brazilian government to offer asylum to Edward Snowden and to enter negotiations between the United Kingdom and Ecuador in order to facilitate asylum for Assange. She asserted that Brazil must take a firm stance on these issues as a prerequisite to entering the global debate in defense of users’ rights.

Sérgio Amadeu, professor at the Federal University of ABC, focused on the data retention provisions in Article 15 of Marco Civil, which he says will augment the market of personal data in the country, as “those who didn’t keep records of personal data before are going to do it now.”

Tor Project founder and developer Jacob Appelbaum made a strong case for the use of encryption for all kinds of communications, a shift that would allow citizens to gain back control over their information. “We protect each other when protecting ourselves,” he said. In the same vein, ThoughtWorks CEO Roy Singhay said that while it costs governments merely cents to spy on each person, it would cost them millions if we encrypted all communications as a standard. Both of them also urged the audience to choose open source software and to develop open source tools that are easier to use and that incorporate encryption by default.

The panel ended with a highly anticipated set of remarks from Julian Assange, who attended via Skype. Assange said that the importance of a meeting such as NETmundial was that it contributed to a redistribution of power. Therefore, he said, civil society needed to take every space they could find and seize it to contribute to the creation of a new balance of power. Assange stated that the new society of information is the new civilization of the world. “We can produce a different system, maybe one that's altogether good…[with] new networks of association, new defined principles and values.” He closed with a strong call to citizens “to take our moment while we can, because if we don't do it, someone else will.”



  • […] On a panel with Jacob Appelbaum, Sérgio Amadeu and other leaders in the field of digital security and privacy, Assange envisioned a citizen-led "redistribution of power."  […]

  • Once the conversation moves from surveillance to espionage, non-state organizations have lost the discussion. Espionage exists in an almost unregulated state as a way that sovereign entities interact with each other. There is no global espionage treaty. It’s a price of doing business. States justify mass surveillance of foreign citizens on national security grounds. We might take issue but not even the UN crosses states invoking national security. In the US, the government identifies two different kinds of privacy right. The first is the right not to be surveilled by the government without due process. While we can argue whether this test has been and is being met, there is at least some kind of judicial oversight for this. The second privacy right is the responsibility of government to protect its citizens from being surveilled by foreign powers. It is this latter kind of privacy that provides the justification for mass surveillance. Moreover, the latter _always_ trumps the former.

    Unfortunately in some respects for non-state actors, Netmundial has cemented their quasi-sovereign status and locked them into not the multistakeholder model they think they are like to think of themselves inhabiting, but rather playing a diplomatic game where they are novices to be taken advantage of by states with vast diplomatic expertise.

  • […] did not pack the punch on surveillance issues that many civil society groups had hoped for. In a remote appearance at the Arena NETmundial, the official side venue for the event, Julian Assange spoke on digital […]

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