Snowden: We can’t throw away our liberties due to fear

Edward Snowden said Canadian surveillance laws shouldn’t be passed based on “rare instances of criminal activity.”

“Mass surveillance isn’t going to protect us from terrorism,” said, Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who became famous after he leaked U.S. National Security Agency documents to the media in 2013.

Snowden spoke at Ryerson University on March 4 via a video link from Russia. He was granted asylum in that country after he was charged in violation of the U.S. Espionage Act.

The Q&A event, which was sponsored by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), was moderated by CBC Radio host Anna Maria Tremonti, who took questions from the audience and Twitter using #AskSnowden.

Snowden speaking about cyber-security (Marija Petrovic/ Ryersonian Staff)

Snowden speaking about cyber-security (Marija Petrovic/ Ryersonian Staff)

The discussion was held in the context of the recent tabling of Canadian government bill, C-51, the “Anti-Terrorism Act,”  which was presented to the House of Commons in February. It presents news means and of government surveillance.

Snowden cautioned Canadians to scrutinize the bill.

“No matter what we do, no matter what laws we pass, we cannot throw away all of our rights, all of our liberties, all of our traditional freedoms because we are afraid of rare instances of criminal activity,” he said.

He stated that lightning strikes have killed more people than terrorism in Canada to emphasize his point.

Snowden also announced the launch of the Snowden Digital Surveillance Archive — a searchable database containing close to 400 of Snowden’s leaked National Security Agency (NSA) documents.

The Snowden Digital Surveillance Archive will be, “a resource that will contribute to greater awareness of the broad scope, intimate reach and profound implications of the global surveillance infrastructures and practices that Edward Snowden’s historic document leak reveals,” according to the website on which the archive is hosted.

Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design, which hosted the event, is a partner on the project.

After Snowden’s video call, panelists Dave Seglins, Andrew Clement and Laura Tribe focused on Canada’s reaction to the leak.

“Canada did not react fiercely to the leak because we don’t have a clear understanding of our Communications Security Establishment,” said Tribe, the national and digital programs lead for the CJFE.

The panelists agreed that U.S. citizens generally have more understanding about the NSA than Canadians do of Canadian Securities Establishment, a rough equivalent in this country that has some similar powers but less oversight from the government.

They said they hoped the event would provoke a nation-wide discussion of the direction Canada’s surveillance should take.

During the teleconference Snowden made the question for such a discussion clear: “Even if mass surveillance does help… is this the way we want to live?” he asked.

In case you missed our live blog coverage of the event, here is a look at some of the highlights from Snowden’s chat as well as the panel discussion that followed.

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