PANEL 3 – Surveillance, censorship & human rights online

There are significant challenges facing the balance between government surveillance and use of data analytics and a citizen’s privacy and civil liberties. Digital whistleblowers have provided a platform for increased public knowledge on government intelligence operations. At the same time, not all governments use the Internet or information technology for good. Non-state actors, like ISIL, continue to use online networks for recruitment and information campaigns. This panel will hear from a variety of voices on the balance between national security and civil liberties.


  • Chris Parsons (Citizen Lab)


  • Leslie Chan (UofT – Arts, Culture, Media)
  • Sam Wollenberg (Digital Public Square)
  • Megan Boler (UofT – OISE)
  • Sarah Myers West (USC)
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Chris Parsons (Moderator)

Dr. Christopher Parsons received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Guelph, and his Ph.D from the University of Victoria. He is the Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project and a Research Associate at the Citizen Lab, in the Munk School of Global Affairs with the University of Toronto. His research focuses on the privacy, security, and political implications of third-party access to telecommunications data. In addition to publishing in academic journals and presses on topics such as national security, internet privacy, and government surveillance practices, he routinely presents findings to members of government and the media.

Sarah Myers West (Panelist)

Sarah Myers West is a doctoral candidate and the Wallis Annenberg Graduate Research Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where her research centers on international policymaking and activism around privacy, security, and freedom of expression She received her B.A. with Distinction in Media Studies and Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia and Masters in Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California where she was a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow.

Her dissertation examines the politics of encryption and history of the cypherpunk movement in the 1990s and 2000s. She is also engaged with ongoing projects examining the role of technology companies in governing speech and new formations of networked public spaces. She is an affiliate researcher at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, a Cybersecurity Fellow at the New America Foundation, the managing editor for Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report, and worked as a Google Policy Fellow for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the summer of 2015.


Sam Wollenberg (Panelist)

In his role as Research Manager for the Digital Public Square (DPS) at the University of Toronto, Sam leads and conducts foundational research into developing online-platforms for countries and demographics who are censored or otherwise restricted in their access to information and freedom of expression. He has led projects focused on illuminating alternative narratives to ISIL online recruitment strategies throughout 17 countries in the Middle East, as well as a China-focused platforms that provide citizens with greater access to information and the ability to discuss pressing socioeconomic issues in their country with global experts. Understanding the surveillance and censorship techniques of a variety of state and non-state actors is fundamental to the work Sam does and the protection of user anonymity and identity is the framework that guides all DPS work.

Megan Boler (Panelist)

Megan Boler is Professor in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto and teaches media studies, social movement theory, philosophy, and feminist theory. Her books include Feeling Power: Emotions and Education (Routledge 1999); Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times (MIT Press 2008); and DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media (eds. Ratto and Boler, MIT Press 2014). Funded by SSHRC for the last ten years, her previous research “Rethinking Media Democracy and Citizenship” examined the motivations of producers of web-based challenges to traditional news; her funded project “Social Media in the Hands of Young Citizens” explored women activists’ experiences and media practices in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Her web-based productions include the official study guide to the documentary The Corporation (dirs. Achbar and Abbott 2003), and the multimedia website Critical Media Literacy in Times of War. Her current research project, “Truth as Event: The Evolution of Truthiness, Emotion, and Politics in the Age of Social Media,“ examines the crisis of public trust in media and political ’truthtelling’ through the lens of affect theory and media fragmentation.

Leslie Chan (Panelist)

Leslie Chan is Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media and the Associate Director of the Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

An early practitioner of the Web for scholarly exchange and online learning, Leslie is particularly interested in the role of “openness” in the design of network, and the implications on the production and flow of knowledge and their impact on local and international development.

As one of the original signatories of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, Leslie has been active in the experimentation and implementation of scholarly communication initiatives of varying scales around the world. The Director of Bioline International, Chair of the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, Leslie is a long time advocate for knowledge equity and inclusive development. Leslie has served as advisor to numerous projects and organizations, including the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, the American Anthropological Association, the International Development Research Centre, UNESCO, and the Open Society Foundation, the Directory of Open Access Journal, and the Open Library of Humanities. He is currently the principal researcher for the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network, funded by IDRC in Canada and DFID in the UK.