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State Surveillance: Necessary Evil or 1984?

Project Overview

A discussion about the state of surveillance, the modern surveillance state and whether 2084 will be an Orwellian nightmare or Facebook's online dream.

Identifying the Problem

Edward Snowden's unprecedented exposure of government surveillance raised important questions about the societal impact of state surveillance. Yet, such discussions mainly focused on debating whether we were heading towards the infamous “Big Brother” scenarios depicted in novels such as 1984 or Brave New World. Few opportunities existed for people from all sides of the debate (pro-surveillance, pro-privacy and all shades of digital grey in between) to meet and discuss their respective positions in a space that facilitated a more nuanced discussion. Corinne was troubled by the lack of such a space, and wanted to create a platform that would bring together business professionals, homeland security employees, academics, human rights activists, hackers, pro-privacy activists and everyday citizens to debate the issues. Corinne believed that by bringing the digital to the physical, encouraging one-on-one interactions and connecting people to each other offline, the participants would gain a better understanding of the issues and the legitimate concerns of their debate partners.

Creating A Solution

Corinne began by establishing a strong partnership with Global Shapers, a World Economic Forum initiative. Through this partnership, Corinne was able to gain access to Global Shapers’ immense network and meet one of the members who operates in the surveillance business. She was then able to put together a panel of participants whose diverse backgrounds would provide a comprehensive and nuanced explanation of the various positions on surveillance. Corinne wanted to ensure that a variety of fields and positions were being represented by members of the panel. She invited speakers and participants, and Amnesty International’s Amsterdam office provided a space at its office for the event. Corinne maintained a blog, twothousandeightyfour, that included relevant links and information about the topics of the state of surveillance and the modern surveillance state. 

The event was a big success, and provided attendees with an opportunity to engage in an informed debate about surveillance without feeling pressured to present the issue in sound bites. Participants from across various fields learned from their debate partners and offered their own viewpoints, while the audience expanded its knowledge of the multi-dimensional topic of modern surveillance. The event sparked a commitment among the participants to continue to facilitate multi-stakeholder platform meetings, and Corinne has continued working with the participants to coordinate such meetings. The ultimate goal of these meetings is to work together to make recommendations to the digital community about surveillance. 

Lessons Learned

While organizing this event, Corinne did run into some minor challenges pertaining to logistics, such as identifying a date on which all panel members could participate, locating a free venue and securing funding for snacks and beverages. Ultimately, all of these concerns were resolved through Corinne’s active cooperation with her partner organizations. She stresses the importance of identifying and collaborating with different groups that share an interest or stake in your own goal.


The costs associated with this project were relatively low. With the help of Humanity in Action Netherlands, Corinne was able to secure a free venue at Amnesty International’s Amsterdam office. She also cut any advertising costs by communicating with invitees through online platforms and social media. Global Shapers provided funding for snacks and beverages.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Netherlands Netherlands 2013

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