When the idea came up to invite Edward Snowden to be a part of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences’ yearlong discussion on privacy, faculty and staff working on the events discussed the pros and cons of adding his voice to the conversation. We asked the dean to answer a few questions about the March 25 event and the decision to include Snowden in “A Conversation on Privacy”.
Why did you decide to have a conversation on the topic of privacy?
One of the enduring questions we study is how to balance the needs of the many with the rights of the individual. It's an issue faced in all of our disciplines. In the case at hand, it comes down to balancing individual privacy with collective safety and security. Getting this right is fundamental to living in a democratic society. In fact, the task of finding a balance is probably only relevant in democracies. The issues surrounding privacy are very much unresolved today, and we need to work on them. Our technologies are changing much more rapidly than our social responses to them. The recent conflict between Apple and the federal government, which we focused on in an earlier panel, is a case in point.
But this is a controversial topic.
I feel that it is the responsibility of public higher education institutions to foster conversations on a wide variety of issues, including controversial ones. As Eileen Klein, President of Arizona Board of Regents, recently wrote in an opinion piece I really appreciated, our state benefits from the broad range of thoughts expressed on campuses.
Why did you decide to invite Edward Snowden?
We invited him because he is at the center of the national debate on privacy. His actions were the catalyst for the current discussion around security, on the one hand, and government overreach and individual rights, on the other. We didn’t invite him because we think he is a hero. We did so because of his historic position on the topic of privacy, one in which he offers a unique perspective.
Is it irresponsible to put Snowden in front of an impressionable young audience?
No. Anyone familiar with college students realizes they have opinions and they are not afraid to express them. Plus, part of a college education is exploring different viewpoints and challenging those of others. And yes, sometimes students change their minds, but just as often the process can help them develop more certainty around their views.
Is Snowden being compensated for his appearance?
A speakers’ bureau arranged for Snowden’s appearance. His fee was paid by the Don Bennett Moon Foundation. No tuition or tax dollars are being used to pay any of the speakers. The modest ticket proceeds from the event will go directly to support students and still other public conversations on the topic of privacy hosted by the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences this year.
What is the Don Bennett Moon Foundation?
Don Bennett Moon is an Arizona lawyer who specializes in First Amendment litigation and supports privacy, free speech, and limits on government intrusion.
Should I be worried about protesters?
None of Snowden’s other appearances at colleges or universities incited an angry backlash, and we don’t anticipate any problems. But safety is imperative, and we will take precautions to ensure an orderly event. Of course, the University of Arizona is a free speech zone, and protesters have the right to voice their opinion in a lawful manner. We are prepared to accommodate free speech in accordance with the university’s free speech and safety policies.
All your panelists appear to share similar views. How does a one-sided discussion contribute to public debate?
We can’t predict what our panelists will say on a given topic. The conversation on privacy continues to evolve, and new circumstances emerge constantly, sometimes unremarked and often undebated. Frankly, privacy makes for strange political bedfellows.
Importantly, this event is only one of a series of public events and courses that the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences will be offering on the topic of privacy this year. Our goal is to ensure that we hear from speakers from all sides of the privacy issue. It is an important national discussion and extremely timely. More details on these events will be posted on the our website at sbs.arizona.edu/privacy.