Big Data, Big Brother, Big Problems?

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Last week, I hosted an instant lecture at the Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance. An instant lecture is a short-notice lecture with a special guest on a very topical issue. In the wake of the increasing revelations about cyber surveillance, I invited my friend and cyber forensics expert Dr. Ryun Kuyan, Chairperson and CRO of New York based data security start-up XENSIX, Inc. (which has just formed a partnership with the UN) to give us a lecture on the cloud, big data, encryption and surveillance, and CoLab’s Managing Director Sebastian Haselbeck as well to join us for the debate afterwards.

While “Big Data, Big Brother, Big Problems?” was the title of our event, we spent a lot of time discussing the interdependencies between three perspectives on our issue:

„They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.“ – Benjamin Franklin

„I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things“ – Edward Snowden

„The Internet is uncharted territory for all of us.“ – Angela Merkel

It became clear that the question of data privacy is a very complex one, as it includes technological dimensions as well as governance aspects: can we integrate encryption in our hardware devices – and if we do so, wouldn’t that be the ultimate antithesis to our vision of the cloud? Do we experience the re-birth of geopolitics though the location of undersea cables? Do we find an answer with more or less data used, and who guarantees the safety of it – towards governments, but also identity theft? Towards insurance companies, while we still want to use telemedicine one day? Should we seek salvation in re-nationalization and centralization or global governance and civil society – but would that mean a governance by multinationals?

After all, these questions aren’t completely new ones, if you take a look at John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” – Davos, February 8, 1996 :

“Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge. Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. […] In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us. You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.”

We will surely see the conversation ongoing, I guess the sphere between our CoLab and the Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance is the right place to do so. Find out more about our evening at

by Manouchehr Shamsrizi FRSA

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Sebastian Haselbeck

Sebastian Haselbeck

Sebastian ist Geschäftsführer des Collaboratory e.V.

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