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Snowden to Skype in for UA's 'Conversation on Privacy'

One of the most controversial men in recent memory will Skype in to University of Arizona's Centennial Hall on Friday for "A Conversation on Privacy."

Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who, in 2013, leaked details of a secret government surveillance program, now resides in Russia, in asylum from the United States. He will appear via videoconference with a panel at the UA to discuss his situation and recent surveillance controversies in the media. 

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Snowden faces potential espionage charges if he returns to the U.S., and many have called him a traitor for revealing details of top-secret programs.

"The whole point of this is to really engage Arizonans in a conversation on this topic with people right smack-dab in the middle of the controversies," said organizer of the event and director of the UA School of Journalism, David Cuillier. "It can't get much more controversial than Edward Snowden."

The event will include Snowden, moderator Nuala O’Connor of the Center for Democracy and Technology, and panelists Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald.

"The moderator is going to be devil's advocate and ask the questions people want asked," said Cuillier. "She was a privacy officer for the Department of Homeland Security under Janet Napolitano, she understands the need for security, she's not a light-weight."

Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who initially met with Snowden in Hong Kong to tell his story.

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"Greenwald is an aggressive adversarial journalist, that's what he calls himself, but he's a journalist," Cuillier said.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong in the summer of 2013 with thousands of stolen classified NSA documents. Snowden then contacted Greenwald and documentary film maker Laura Poitras in efforts to tell his story through them. 

"Laura was really smart in that she filmed the whole thing and created a documentary showing how it all happened," explained Cuillier.

The Oscar winning movie that came from that experience, "CitizenFour," will be shown at the Loft Cinema on Thursday as part of the UA journalism school's "Journalism at the Loft" series. Greenwald will be at the theater for a Q&A after the film.

"I think people, if they see the movie ahead of time, will be more informed and the discussion will have a lot more resonance for them" Cuillier said. 

MIT professor, linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky will also be on the panel for the Conversation on Privacy. Chomsky is a visiting scholar to the UA Department of Linguistics for two weeks in March. He will lend his expertise on the philosophical side of the conversation.

"Noam Chomsky has spoken out about these issues, he's a really philosophical-academic type of person, one of the great thinkers of our time," said Cuillier. 

When deciding who to include in the conversation, Cuillier explained that he chose people at the center of the issue that could really engage the audience.

"It's a powerhouse conversation about civil liberties and government surveillance and our rights as citizens in our society today," said Cuillier.

The topic of technology and privacy is, or should be, important to everyone, explained Cuillier.

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"If you use the Internet, if you use a cell phone, then you should be interested in this topic because it effects you," said Cuillier. "The government and corporations have the ability to hear what you are saying on the phone, to collect all of your web browsing data, and they're doing it. That’s what Snowden pointed out."

The topic of government surveillance and the fine line between privacy and safety is important to many people specifically in Arizona as well, explained Cuillier. Arizona's proximity to the border means that security is important to the state. Raytheon, a military defense contractor, is located in Arizona and holds security very highly. Fort Huachuca, home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, is also in the state.

"Security is important to our state, but then at the same time a lot of Arizonans believe in small government and government not intruding on our lives, so these issues are really at the center," said Cuillier.

The main goal of the event, said Cuillier, is to present people with accurate information so that they can be better-informed citizens.

"I hope Arizonans will be more informed on the issue and be able to take action and self-govern which is the whole point," said Cuillier. "If we know what's going on, we can make better decisions as a people."

People who can't attend "A Conversation on Privacy" in person can watch the live stream hosted by The Intercept.

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