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The keynote speaker, Cindy Cohn, was introduced with a quote from The National Law Journal, “[I]f Big Brother is watching, he better look out for Cindy Cohn.” Since she discussed the NSA and data collection on Legal Talk Network in 2014, I am familiar with her story and her passion for user privacy and freedom of expression. But Ms. Cohn’s keynote speech was a strong statement that captured the attention of the entire audience. According to her, it should. We are all affected by mass surveillance of internet communications.
Cohn, executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), began the keynote by describing the EFF’s passion for civil liberties in an increasingly technological world. The organization started 25 years ago, we learned, is funded by the community, and focuses on litigation, activation, and building technologies to help its cause. Later, she candidly admitted that the speech is not unbiased; she endeavors to have us join her cause.
At this point, Cohn dove deep into the details of NSA spying, the stages of data collection, and the extent to which she believes this data collection and surveillance goes against the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I couldn’t possibly do her thorough and engaging explanation justice, so please see what she has authored on the subject. I personally learned that most mass data collection and analysis is done under the guise of protection from foreign threat.
“How many people in here have iPhones?” Cohn then asked. More than half of the audience raised their hands and, with an eyebrow raise, she reminded us of the importance of the FBI versus Apple case, currently pending. This case, apparently chosen because of the terrorism factor, was thought to have elicited a sympathetic response from the public. The public outcry seems to be that we are compromising privacy for security, but we are actually compromising security for security. Can we as the public afford to compromise the security Apple works hard to create in order for the NSA to keep our country secure?
After her fervent finale, she answered some questions, and then was closed by an enthusiastic standing ovation. Cohn herself admitted that her topic is much more popular in a post-Snowden world and she is right. Her keynote speech was well received and the audience was enthralled.
Cindy Cohn came by the Legal Talk Network booth after her speech for an exclusive interview with Dennis Kennedy and Bob Ambrogi. Stay tuned for it to go live.
Kelsey heads up Legal Talk Network's marketing team. She blogs, tweets, Facebooks, connects with people on LinkedIn, publishes tons of podcasts and listens to even more.