Edward Snowden speaks at University of Lethbridge: ‘If you don’t have privacy, you don’t have you’

Former American intelligence officer and whistleblower Edward Snowden presented a live conversation via web-link with audiences at the University of Lethbridge, University of Winnipeg and Brandon University on Tuesday evening.

In 2013, Snowden gave classified government documents to journalists which revealed billions of ordinary citizens were being spied on.

“If you don’t have privacy, you don’t have you, you don’t exist to claim yourself; rather society claims you,” Snowden said from his temporary home in Russia.

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The message hit home for U of L student Paul Esau.

“It was a very scary moment for me because I kind of use that idea myself…what do I have against mass surveillance? I don’t really care,” Esau said. “But at the end of the day you don’t really care until you’re vulnerable.”

Snowden told his Canadian audience mass surveillance is also happening north of the border. He brought up the case of police monitoring La Presse journalists in Quebec.

“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.

For U of L student Dakota Lizee, Snowden’s presentation strengthened her desire to stay off social media.

“I think that was one problem with this, whether intentional or not, it reinforced my fear, right?” Lizee said. “My mom and I were like, ‘we got to get rid of our phones.’ Not that we have anything to hide.”

U of L political science professor Dr. Harold Jansen moderated the event. He said it was a conversation worth having.

“We thought Edward Snowden brings up a lot of questions that are very relevant to a university committed to liberal education,” Jansen said. “What’s the role of technology in our lives? How does that affect how we function as citizens? What’s the relationship between security and freedom of privacy?”

Snowden has been charged in the U.S. with espionage and could face up to 30 years in prison if he returns.