Edward Snowden — one of the world’s best-known whistleblowers — spoke to sold-out crowds across the prairies Tuesday about the importance of prioritizing our right to privacy, as well as some contemporary issues that have emerged since he leaked classified documents in 2013.
Overflow rooms had to be opened at both the University of Winnipeg and the University of Lethbridge as interest in the event surpassed expectations. The crowd totaled about 600 in Lethbridge, Alta.
Snowden expressed concern with the line he’s heard countless times in the past few years: that sacrificing privacy is worth it for increased security.
“But we should always be aware that we don’t get to choose what we are to be protected from,” he said.
Privacy in a digital age
Hushed laughter broke out in the crowd when one student asked how someone could theoretically endeavour to keep all of their phone calls and internet habits private in light of what has been revealed about mass surveillance in the last four years.
While Snowden was able to offer some security tips, he said it was most important that people keep talking about privacy rights as something that matters, even if they don’t know how to fix it themselves.
He also suggested banning the phrase “national security” as an excuse for abandoning those rights in the first place, “because they mean very different things to politicians than they do to you and I.”
“Saying things such as ‘I don’t care about privacy because I have nothing to hide,’ is no different than saying, ‘I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say,'” Snowden said.
And that’s something that really struck a chord with some students in the audience.
“I think it was particularly interesting how Mr. Snowden framed rights as outside of the national law. We normally think about this as an American problem, or a Canadian problem … It was very thought provoking,” said political science student Gabriel Cassie.
Cassie said he isn’t particularly familiar with Snowden’s story, only having followed some headlines back in 2013 and the proceeding years, but he said hearing him speak has made him much more interested and engaged.
Trump move ‘calls into question’ commitment to laws
Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey. At his presentation, Snowden referred to Comey’s firing as alarming and part of a global shift away from democratic controls over powerful people.
He said the firing is worrisome because Comey was conducting a wide-ranging probe into the Trump administration, including the possible influence of Russia in last year’s U.S. election.
“This calls into question our commitment to the rule of law,” Snowden said.
“It’s not to say that what the president has done is illegal, but we should not lose sight of the fact that … the president of the United States has just fired the man in charge of a criminal investigation into the actions…