Author of the new memoir, Permanent Record, former CIA officer and National Security Agency (NSA) consultant Edward Snowden shocked the world in 2013 by breaking with the American intelligence establishment and revealing the extent of contemporary mass surveillance. His disclosures not only attracted great attention to privacy issues but also turned him into a target of the ‘Five Eyes Alliance’ (The United States, The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and Australia). In the years following his disclosures, Snowden became the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, Citizenfour (2014) and a critically acclaimed Oliver Stone film, Snowden (2016).
Now living in exile, Snowden continues to speak out about mass surveillance technologies and practices that have created “the most effective means of social control in the history of our species.”“Everything we do now lasts forever. Not because we want to remember, but because we are no longer allowed to forget,” he says, evoking a key theme of Permanent Record. In his memoir, Snowden recounts his life, his role as an employee working for the public- and private-sector organizations that have created contemporary mass surveillance systems, and why he was moved to expose the surveillance over-reach that he witnessed.
In collaboration with Argo BookShop, Concordia University is hosting a reading group leading up to the 2021 Interactive Symposium on the Commodification of Leisure in the Digital Era, which will feature a closing keynote interview with Edward Snowden. The keynote interview, which will address the intersection of contemporary digital games with systems of mass surveillance, will create an opportunity to learn from Snowden about his formative relationship with digital games and how they shaped his ideas and ideals of freedom and justice. It will also explore how contemporary digital games, which are today largely networked and online, may facilitate mass surveillance practices. Because of the ways they are monetized, many contemporary digital games are plugged into systems of consumer surveillance designed to target advertising and other forms of influence.
There is a real sense in which gamers today are, therefore, literally playing for surveillance. These surveillance systems create conditions that are very different from those that characterized the digital games of Snowden’s youth, which afforded his generation vital opportunities for anonymous play and self-expression. Given these differences, we will speak with Snowden about contemporary digital games as forms of mass surveillance; but we will also learn from him about ways of hacking, or playing against, gamified surveillance systems in ways that preserve possibilities for privacy and anonymity.
Reading group meetings will take place via Zoom on Wednesdays:
Copies of Edward Snowden’s memoir, Permanent Record, can be obtained from Argo BookShop, 1915 Ste.-Catherine St. W., Montreal, QC, H3H 1M3.
The reading group will be led by sociologist and associate professor Martin A. French (Concordia University, Department of Sociology & Anthropology), whose research emphasizes the broader social and political contexts of communications and information technology (CIT), focusing especially on risk, surveillance, privacy and social justice. With one meeting devoted to each of the three parts of the book, the reading group will reflect on and discuss some of the many themes found in Permanent Record.