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Surveillance, Snowden and Security: international experts debate in York

Posted on 28 May 2015

Sparks will fly at the York Festival of Ideas on 20 June when the Deputy Chief of Staff of NATO, Operations and Intelligence, Major General Gordon ‘Skip’ Davis and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Defence Editor of the Guardian, Ewen MacAskill will lead a debate on the nature and appropriate level of state surveillance and the implications for security and intelligence gathering of The Guardian’s coverage of Edward Snowden.

They will be joined by an international line-up of experts spanning the spectrum of the legacy of Alan Turing’s work at Bletchley Park, the world’s most noted uncracked ‘code’ – the Voynich Code, the seeming naiveté of the pioneers who created the world’s first webpages to the present level of complexity and seemingly ungovernable modern digital landscape. Further panel discussions will explore the problems governments face in transitioning terrorist organisations into political organisations, the seemingly symbiotic relationship between terrorist atrocities, media coverage and foreign policy decision making and the way criminal and terrorist organisations are masking their intent by using religion as a decoy.

As well as Major General Davies, and Ewen MacAskill, who led the Guardian's investigation of the Edward Snowden story, speakers will include Sir Dermot Turing, nephew of Alan Turing and Trustee of the Bletchley Park Trust.

The Festival Focus day will also feature contributions by Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor at Channel  4 News, Professor Bebo White, internet pioneer regarded as America’s first Webmaster and Emeritus Departmental Associate at Stanford University’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and Jonathan Powell, former Chief of Staff to Tony Blair. Also featured will beProfessor Sultan Barakat, University of York and Brookings Doha Center, Profesor Tim Spiller, York Quantum Communications Hub, Charlie Edwards, RUSI, Rene Zandbergen, an expert on the Voynich Code, Mina Al Oraibi, Davos Council on the Arab World, and Claire Spencer, Senior Research Fellow on the Middle East and North Africa Programme & Second Century Initiative at Chatham House.

Beginning at 11.00am with Cracking the Code, a discussion of coding and decoding through the ages led by Professor Bill Sherman, Director of Research at the V&A and University of York, an event on The Future of Cyber Security will follow from 1.00 – 2.30pm. Chaired by Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC News Technology Correspondent, a panel of experts will discuss the naiveté of the early internet pioneers and the uncontrollable results of the internet explosion.

From 3.00 – 4.30pm, an expert debate around the Edward Snowden case will cast light on the future of security and surveillance, and from 4.45 – 5.15pm, Major General Gordon ‘Skip’ Davis will discuss intelligence’s role in defending Europe and the opportunities and challenges of working in a new strategic environment.

A panel discussion on Intelligence Gathering and the Media: Who to trust will take place from 5.30 – 6.30pm, and from 6.45 – 8.15pm Jonathan Powell will deliver a keynote address based on his recent book, Talking to Terrorists, followed by a panel debate asking the question whether criminal and terrorist organisations are using religion as a decoy.

Concluding the Focus Day, a screening of Citizen Four, an Oscar and BAFTA winning documentary about meeting whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, will take place on Sunday 21 June from 12.00 – 2.00pm. The screening is sponsored by Channel 4.

Joan Concannon, Director of the Festival and Director of External Relations at the University of York, said: “: “There has been an enduring fascination for hundreds of years about the murky world of spies and spooks. But in the 21st century what is the nature of state surveillance, what is an appropriate level and how much do we have a ‘right to know’ about state surveillance? The implications of the Edward Snowden investigation are still being played out in the US courts and the way in which the so-called ‘deep’ internet is being manipulated to support and hinder intelligence gathering is growing more pervasive.

“We are honoured and delighted that so many of the world’s experts in these areas to discuss and debate these issues will come to York. The University of York has a strong track record in post-war recovery and capacity building in some of the most troubled countries in the world. It is also leading the development of future encrypted communications with the recent launch of the Quantum Technologies Hub. So the University of York is a natural home for this discussion and the York Festival of Ideas is looking forward to hosting the debate.”

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