Ethics, Law, and Surveillance Culture Event Summary - September 23, 2013

Event Summary

The Cooper Union Alumni Association, Cooper Union Entrepreneurship Society (CUES), and the MIT Enterprise Forum NY offered a large, free, public event in The Great Hall on Monday, September 23, 2013. The event brought together a number of high-profile speakers that have been heavily engaged in privacy rights and information security over the past several decades. This was an opportunity to learn about the legal and technological state of affairs of information privacy, from the experts, and to bring public questions to them in our Great Hall.

The full livestream recording can be found on the Cooper Union Entrepreneurship Society Livestream Page.

Check out the coverage in The Villager here.

And the photo album is public and up on facebook here.

Introductory Remarks

Paul Garrin A'82, co-organizer for the event, was the host for the evening. First introducing Bruce Bachenheimer from MITEF-NY, the event co-producer. Then Sean Cusack BSE'98, our CUAA Chair of Communications and co-organizer for the event. Then introducing Gerard O'Donnell CE'15 from Why Cooper? And finally Casey Van Gollan from Free Cooper Union.

The Panelists

Stanley L. Cohen - Human Rights Activist, Criminal Defense Attorney, Legal Counsel to Anonymous "PayPal 14" Paul DeRienzo - Journalist, Educator, Radio and TV host of "Let Them Talk" James Bamford - Investigative Journalist, Expert on NSA and Author of "Puzzle Palace", "Body of Secrets", "Pretext to War", and "The Shadow Factory" Donna Lieberman - Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union.

In the light of recent revelations around the National Security Agency PRISM program, the panel of journalists, civil libertarians and human rights experts presented the long history of domestic spying by government agencies, private sector cooperation, and the legal, ethical and business challenges of defending and preserving liberty and constitutionality in cyberspace.

Stanley Cohen focused on the legal history of spying and whistleblowers and politics; Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Aaron Swartz. And regaled on the slow creep of surveillance that is permitted by law, for a very long time, not just in modern day with fast computers and the internet.

Paul DiRienzo started out with discussing the book that first interested him in the subject, Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, and a story about his college friend, a self-described Marxist, who was dragged out of her car and sent to prison for 40 years.

James Bamford specifically discussed the NSA and its own particular history, the partnerships that it's made in order to get access to information, for a very long time, since 1920. He then went into detail as to the known technologies that are being used to transmit, store, decrypt, and search all the information that is being collected. Imagine what a "yottabyte" is.

Donna Lieberman discussed the role of surveillance in the wider sense, and how it falls into the greater fights for personal civil liberties. For example, the Palmer Raids in NYC, where the government arrested over 10,000 individuals, plus 750 NYPD officers that broke into 73 Communist Party offices, 53 offices of radical publications, and rounded up another 1,000 people. Out of all of them, only 12 people were convicted in any way.

During the panel portion of the event, Paul Garrin led the group through a discussion of "what now, what do we do about the system?", "what do you do if you're arrested?", "how is legislation moving, to either exacerbate or solve these problems?", "what rights do you give up when you use facebook or google?", and so on.

Audience Interaction

Then several audience members had questions for the panel, such as differences in protections from state to state, whether the NSA actually has enough resources to sort through everything they collect, and the burden of proof in the expectation of privacy.

The event ran late into the evening, well over 3 hours, with over half of the hundred or so guests staying until the very end to listen to the Q&A.

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