Edward Snowden: Naughty Step or Pedestal?

By Pip Thornton. Pip is a PhD student in Geopolitics & Cybersecurity  researching representations, perceptions and constructions of the figure of the soldier in geopolitical and cyber spaces/places.

debate leek

Prof. Kenny Paterson makes an incredibly important point (with leek)

Last Friday RHUL MSc Geopolitics and Security students were invited to participate in a debate hosted by the first intake of the Cybersecurity Centre for Doctoral Training, with whom they have shared modules and training this year as part of an innovative collaboration between RHUL Geography and the Information Security Group.

The topic: Edward Snowden. Is he Hero or Zero? Does he belong on a pedestal or a naughty step?

Attendance was high (nothing to do with the free lunch and beer), and the atmosphere tense (everything to do with the BBC Question Time music). After a quick introduction from Prof. Keith Martin, proceedings kicked off with an excellent overview of the Snowden saga so far from MSc Geopolitics student Elizabeth Alexander.

Next up were Cybersecurity PhD students Sam Scott and Steve Hersee with their empassioned views from the Pedestal and the Naughty Step respectively, their arguments informing the framework of the ensuing discussions which revolved around pre-Snowden oppositions of surveillance v. privacy, the post-Snowden question of whether the revelations have made things better or worse, and the more general ethics of whistle-blowing.

The floor then opened for a lively discussion, the only rule being the implementation of a talking stick to maintain order, except this was no ordinary talking stick; it was a leek (pun intended ©Keith Martin), and nobody was allowed to speak until they had it in their hand.

Some excellent questions were raised and discussed:

  • Is the world a more precarious place after the Snowden revelations?
  • Could Snowden integrate back into society if he ever returned home?
  • Can data ever be truly secure when there is a human element in the process?
  • Have we been lulled into thinking that government always equals good?
  • What happens to our data if governments go bad?
  • Was Snowden qualified to decide what data should be released?
  • Is it ever okay to whistle-blow?

So who won? Should Snowden be put on the naughty step or on a pedestal? Unfortunately we will never know: Prof. Jason Crampton snuck off early leaving no vote and the remaining 20 people voted 50/50. It seems we’ll just have to have a rematch next year – who knows what developments and revelations there will be to consider by then.

Garrett and leekKatherine and leek


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