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Julian Assange on Digital Sovereignty and Surveillance at #NETmundial2014

Categories: Brazil, Free Expression, Internet governance, Privacy, Surveillance
Natália Viana, Sérgio Amadeu,  Roy Singhay, Jacob Appelbaum. Picture by @WebWeWant at Twitter [1]

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.”