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Professor, journalists launch Edward Snowden Archive

Submitted on Wednesday, April 08, 2015

snowden_amtProfessor Andrew Clement engaged an Faculty of Information graduate and current student to create the Snowden Digital Surveillance Archive — a complete, indexed, searchable, and fully accessible collection of all National Security Agency (NSA) documents released by whistleblower-in-exile, Edward Snowden, and subsequently published in the media.

The Snowden Archive was launched last month in partnership with the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

“I initiated the Snowden Digital Surveillance Archive to help people understand better the mass state surveillance we are all exposed to,” Professor Clement says. “The many documents that Snowden released to journalists offer us an invaluable resource for learning about how government agencies, such as the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Canada’s Communication Security Establishment (CSE), are spying electronically on our daily activities.”

Prof. Clement is also leading an international effort to develop constructive responses by iSchools around the world to the growing challenge of mass state surveillance, resulting in a public statement.

Snowden, a former system administrator for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), leaked classified information from the NSA to select media in June 2013.

However, while the nearly 400 published documents are publicly available, they were very difficult to search and make sense of as a whole—something Dr. Clement wanted to remedy.

Already, he says, journalists, academics and activists are finding the Archive helpful in opening up new insights into the important but little known topic of state surveillance.

The leaked documents sparked an international conversation on surveillance, privacy, and national security—all areas of Dr. Clement’s research interest—inspiring him to initiate a research collaboration beyond the walls of the University of Toronto to make it easier for anyone to find and search the documents all gathered in one place.

“I have spent the bulk of my career at UofT’s iSchool, during which time I founded several academic initiatives to study privacy invasive practices and possible remedies. I’ve challenged increasingly insidious surveillance practices, and advocated for Canadians’ privacy, access and other information rights,” says Prof. Clement. “I want to advance this pressing issue.”

To design and build a publicly accessible, easy to use and searchable archive, Prof. Clement hired iSchool graduate, George Raine (Master of Information ‘14) and Jillian Harkness (first year iSchool student), who both specialize in Archives and Records Management.

“In collaboration with CJFE, they described and indexed in a remarkably professional way all of the published documents in time for the March 4 launch,” says Professor Clement. The duo are still adding refinements to the site, adding keywords, tweaking document descriptions, improving the interface etc.

At the “Snowden Live: Canada and the Security State” event on March 4th, Canadians were invited to submit their questions to Edward Snowden using #AskSnowden on Twitter. Snowden addressed a variety of concerns, including the implications of the documents, and why these leaks changed the way the government and citizens think of our privacy.

Following the Q&A with Snowden, Dr. Clement joined panelists Dave Seglins, Senior Reporter, CBC Investigative Unit, and Laura Tribe, National and Digital Programs Lead, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, to discuss the implications of Snowden’s revelations for the country, and the future of digital surveillance in Canada.

Other supporters of this project include: Centre for Freedom of Expression, Faculty of Communications and Design, Ryerson University; Digital Curation Institute, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto; Surveillance Studies Centre, Sociology Department, Queens University. The event was produced in partnership with Ryerson University and the CBC.

The Director of the iSchool’s Digital Curation Institute, Professor Christoph Becker, says it is glad to support this initiative: “The revelations brought about by these documents raise serious questions about our information society. The documents are crucial evidence to support an informed public debate, and a comprehensive open archive is a much-needed resource to support this discourse.”

Public Statement on Surveillance

In late-March, Dr. Clement advanced the surveillance issue further, by convening two sessions at the international iConference in California, entitled After Snowden: An iSchool response to the challenges of (NSA) mass state surveillance.

The sessions sought to facilitate productive discussions around the various challenges that mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) pose for the iSchool community, and how iSchoolers might respond, individually and collectively.

The result is a public statement endorsed by participants from many iSchools, identifying various actions to deal with the challenges.

Prof. Clement hopes people will pursue responses appropriate to their circumstances, contribute further suggestions, continue the conversation on Twitter @NSAiSchool, and celebrate each proposed action made into a reality.

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