‘Insult to our intelligence’: Feeble excuses for not inviting Snowden, Assange to surveillance conference

Snowden, Assange and the team at Wikileaks has done a huge service to humanity, so any excuses for not inviting them seem lame, Jane Duncan from Rhodes University of South Africa told RT.

A massive internet forum on issues of privacy and surveillance took place in Stockholm on May 26. However, all the leading whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden and Glen Greenwald were blacklisted from taking part, and even Wikileaks representatives were banned. The move has caused a storm on Twitter, which has been rife with sarcasm and anger towards the conference organizers.

RT:The organizers gave some answers as to why these people were not invited. Do you think gender balance is a reasonable excuse?

Jane Duncan: They did not only use the excuse of gender balance but also the need for geographic representation as well. Personally I find these excuses to be extremely weak. In fact, I would say that they were an insult to our intelligence. There were over 450 participants from around the world and I do not think that the addition of 2-3 more white males would have made any difference whatsoever.

RT:What is the actual reason behind the ban, do you think?

JD: It troubled all of us in the conference. In fact, a lot of us coming from the global South were concerned that we were actually being used in order to legitimize what is a completely unacceptable decision. I suspect that the reason why this decision was taken was because the Swedish government did not want to embarrass the US government in this particular conference, and as we know there has been information that has come out of Snowden’s revelations which has linked GCHQ, the NSA and Swedish intelligence in collaborations. I suspect that it may have been an attempt to try and prevent a full airing of those particular issues. Obviously Edward Snowden and Greenwald, the people who were instrumental in exposing these particular collaborations, would have been best placed to speak about these issues.

RT:What was the point of the conference and did it achieve anything?

JD: I have to say that I was really proud of many of the people who were especially civil society representatives. There was a very hot session towards the end where the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt participated, and there was a US government representative as well. I must say that both of them were given hell, they were not let off the hook and I think that especially US civil society really took the US government representative to task. So I think to that extent, it has been communicated to both Swedish and US governments that the decision that was taken not to invite the key protagonists in what is really the biggest story around communications surveillance in the past year was not acceptable. I think that message has been communicated loud and clear. And to that extent it was a very useful conference.

RT:Are we seeing a new wave of pressure on whistleblowers across the world?

JD: Yes, most certainly. I think whistleblowers around the world are under attack. I must also say that Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and the team at Wikileaks have done a huge service to humanity. Even my own country, South Africa, has felt the ripples of the information that has come out of the particular leaks, because Wikileaks released information that was showing that South Africa was manufacturing mass surveillance technology that has since been found in the listening rooms of Libya and Egypt. And this is the legacy that I think these extremely courageous whistleblowers have left behind. It must have been tremendously difficult for them to make the decisions that they did, to put themselves on the line in the way that they did. At least they still have their lives in spite of the fact that to an extent their lives have been ruined by these particular decisions. In a country like South Africa for instance, whistleblowers have been assassinated for speaking out about issues of corruption and government mismanagement. All of this goes to show that we have a crisis around the protection of whistleblowers around the world, and particularly those whistleblowers who are located deep in the belly of the beast of the emerging surveillance state, and its these people who need the greatest protection at a time when the protection is clearly so incredibly weak. Let’s hope that other whistleblowers will not be discouraged by what has happened to Snowden and Assange and others, and will step forward and will expose government excesses in other intelligence agencies around the world because we will certainly need that.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.