Inside the Citizen Lab

Earlier this semester, I attended a very interesting lecture series on cyber warfare. The director of the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, Ron Deibert, spoke to us about the lab's work. The center focuses on digital security issues that arise from human rights concerns - this involves surveillance, censorship, mobile privacy, and many other topics.

What was very interesting for me about the talk was the intersectionality: the Citizen Lab combines methods from computer science, political science, area studies, and law to properly explore its work. Dr. Deibert made sure to emphasize that the lab is not an activist or advocacy group but rather a center for generating peer-reviewed research. The effects of this research have been impressively far-reaching, and reports are published and highly regarded by the community.

In addition to relaying some very interesting (and concerning) stories about real people affected by foreign-government-sponsored surveillance, Dr. Deibert left us with three observations about the current state of global affairs that appear threatening:

  1. The capacity to connect is outstripping the capacity to secure.
  2. Democracy is in retreat, and authoritarianism is resurgent.
  3. Today sees a booming surveillance industry with proven abuse potential.

These three ideas combined make for a pretty dismal view of the future - if nothing is being done to provide matched security to the heightened number of connected devices around the globe. For me, this event combined two huge interests for me - computer science and international studies - and brought up interesting questions about the ethics of computing, questions I will be pondering for a while to come.



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