Krystian Woznicki on Thu, 28 May 2015 16:33:38 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Snowden Archive > UN|COMMONS

Hi nettimers,

in the past years the Berliner Gazette has been stimulating various
debates and practical processes to work out ways to deal with the
Snowden documents in a responsible, sustainable and, above all,
democratic manner.

At the Berliner Gazette UN|COMMONS-conference October 22-24 in Berlin,
we will pick up on some of those issues in five parallel workshops,
where more than 100 committed citizens from all over Europe (and
beyond) will work together on storytelling projects or position papers
tackling issues such as "Public Trust For Big Data" or "Leaks As World
Heritage". The common question being: How can we collectively design our
digital environment in the post-Snowden era?  More info soon!

Against this backdrop we are really excited, that eventually a first big
step to wards the "commoning" of the Snowden documents has been
undertaken in Canada, where the "Digital Snowden Surveillance Archive"
was recently launched.

One of its main initiators, Andrew Clement, wrote a text about it for
the Berliner Gazette, which we just translated into German:

This text is based on an interview conducted by the editorial team of
the Berliner Gazette with Andrew Clement, while additional info on the
archive technology was provided by George Raine, the archivist who
designed and built the archive.

Below the English original version. Do you have suggestions where it
could be published in English under Creative Commons license?

Kind regards,



*Public Matters* (working title)

by Andrew Clement

What Snowden has revealed is a complex, institutionalized system of mass
surveillance that is deeply embedded within and operating through our
state and corporate apparatus. Only through a major collective
investigative effort drawing on multiple perspectives can we adequately
come to grips with its scope, consequences and remedial possibilities.
An archive such as the one we developed would be an essential resource
in this effort. See

Looking at ground breaking leaks, especially with regard to how society
managed (or not) to archive them, we can learn from history. For me the
most relevant prior leak that had great social significance was
whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers. Making
public authoritative internal documents about the Vietnam War that
showed that officials were routinely lying about the motivations and
state of the war played an important role in public opposition to the
war and the eventual US withdrawal.

The Snowden documents have a similar potential power because they too
show in detail shocking government activities and bald lying by public
officials. Conditions are of course different than in 1971 when the
Pentagon Papers became public. There was already a strong social
movement opposing the Vietnam war to which the Pentagon Parers added
fuel. At present, there is only a nascent, still quite weak social
movement opposing state surveillance.

The potential value of the Snowden leak is to help coalescing and
broadening opposition  Furthermore there appears to be have been more
dissent  in 1971 among the upper political strata than is the case now,
making the challenge of changing direction even more formidable.

*Public education about mass surveillance*

I had several motivations in initiating the Snowden Surveillance Archive
project, mainly having to do with helping to promote and inform the
public debate around mass state surveillance.  Now that we know our
state security agencies are conducting fine grained surveillance of
everyone's electronic activities, we as a society have very serious
choices to make about the appropriate role for secretive security
agencies in a democracy.

If we do nothing, then we will have accepted de facto that our everyday
lives are open to scrutiny by unaccountable government agencies.  This I
believe is inimical to the foundations of democracy and we run a high
risk of becoming police states. Reining in these agencies and
eliminating those aspects that are not justifiable is a very difficult,
but necessary task. It can only be accomplished when substantial numbers
are well enough informed about the existing surveillance practices and
the threats they pose, to take effective remedial action.

Given the secrecy and complexity of the practices involved, a
pre-condition is public education about mass surveillance is vital. This
is something that I have been pursuing in my research for several years,
especially around the project that seeks to show people the
paths their data takes across the internet and where it may be
intercepted by the NSA.

Firstly, I wanted a searchable archive of the Snowden documents for this
research, so I could better locate and identify surveillance sites of
the NSA and its Five Eyes partners that I could include in the on-going
IXmaps work. It seemed like a pretty obvious idea, so was surprised I
couldn't find such an archive already available. I had some research
funds, and looked for someone in my Faculty's Archive and Records
Management specialization who was interested in the subject matters that
I could hire. I was fortunate to find George Raine, a trained archivist
who had recently graduated from our masters program. George  was keen to
be involved in the project, had many of the necessary skills and was up
for learning what else was needed.

More generally it struck me that many other opportunities were opened up
by the Snowden documents that could lead to academic and journalistic
research and reporting that weren't addressed by the media coverage to
date. Apart from Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide book,  reporting has
consisted almost entirely of sensational stories based on a relatively
small handful of documents newly released with the article.  The
ability  to see an individual document in a wider context and to pursue
threads across the whole range of documents makes possible a more
penetrating inquiry into the driving forces and overall nature of mass

*The archive's architecture*

Given my primary goal of promoting an open, informed public debate, I
intended from the beginning to create a widely accessible on-line
archive under free/open licences.

The Snowden archive is built using Greenstone, a suite of software for
building and distributing digital library collections. It is produced by
the New Zealand Digital Library Project at the University of Waikato,
and developed in cooperation with UNESCO and the Human Info NGO. Being
open source, it is widely used around the world for digital library
initiatives, especially in developing countries. We recognize that
Greenstone does not have many features of more recently developed
digital archive platforms. Once we get a better sense of the needs of
Archive users we may consider porting to another platform.

The Snowden Archive that is available on the Canadian Journalists for
Free Expression (CFJE) website has been highly customized.  Documents
are described according to a custom metadata schema that is sensitive to
contextual elements of the Snowden documents that are not present in
most other document collections, such as security classification codes
and distribution markings. The look and feel of the collection,
including the format of the document descriptions have also been very
heavily modified from the standard Greenstone template.

The vast majority of documents released by the media are PDF files. In
their original form, there were a lot of powerpoint files and other
proprietary formats. The newspapers did work for us by releasing them in
PDF and PDF/A, which are both very widely used, open-source formats. We
determined that there was little likelihood that PDF files would become
obsolete in the foreseeable future (it is an extremely widely used,
open-source standard). If they do, it is easy to retrieve the documents
from the collection and re-upload them in a different, more widely used

*Linking to offline archives*

There is also an initiative to develop an offline "Snowden Archive in a
Box" developed by Evan Light at Concordia University's Mobile Media Lab
where he works on privacy, surveillance and telecom issues.

The Portable Snowden Surveillance Archive is an autonomous version of
the fully text-searchable Internet-based archive Snowden Digital
Surveillance Archive created by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
and researchers at the University of Toronto. It is a stand-alone wifi
network and web server that permits you to research all files leaked by
Edward Snowden and subsequently published by the press. The purpose of
the portable archive is to provide end-users with a secure off-line
method for individuals to use this database without the threat of mass

The Portable Snowden Surveillance Archive began as part of an evolving
and touring European project called Performigrations
( which focuses on migration/immigration
and was launched in Montreal at the Blue Metropolis literary festival in
April 2015. An evolving project in its own right, a current version of
the Portable Archive also includes a surveillance demonstration
apparatus that monitors wifi traffic around it and plays it back to the
public. In June, it will be showcased at the Biografilm festival in
Bologna, Italy âEUR" in partnership with Performigrations - and at the
Citizenship and Surveillance Conference in Cardiff, Wales. The Portable
Archive may appear in future Performigrations iterations in Europe and

*The role of public libraries*

I would like to see the Snowden Archive become more than a passive
resource, but also a site for collaborative research and deliberation.
Libraries certainly have an important role to play, especially public
libraries as they go beyond their more conventional role of making
materials accessible to devote more attention to facilitating discussion
and deliberation within the communities they serve based on these materials.

My own university library contacted me about archiving materials related
to the Snowden Archive (specifically the media articles that published
the documents). We're now working to have the library host a mirror of
the entire Archive. Establishing mirroring sites is desirable in several
ways. Besides improving accessibility and technical stability through
redundancy, it also provides local users (say students) access to the
collection without exposing their search traffic to internet
interception and expresses solidarity with the ideals of open access to
controversial materials.

We've approached other universities as potential mirror sites, but so
far this has been bogged down by the fact that the documents represent
'stolen goods' and so possessing them would be a criminal violation (at
least in Canada). While the chance of prosecution is very small, legal
departments in a couple of universities are balking. Going directly
through the libraries themselves looks to be a better prospect as they
both have the necessary technical capabilities and appear more oriented
than university administrations to preserving academic freedoms around
contentious holdings.

While our current focus is on ensuring that the Archive is accessible to
all, reliable, easy to use, accurate and updated as new documents are
published, to fulfill its potential as a 'knowledge commons' around the
issue of state surveillance, it also needs a community of engaged users
who will conduct research based on the Archive and give wider public
meaning to its contents. Ideally this would include people who can
provide insightful annotations, contribute additional relevant
documents, host mirrors, stimulate conversations, initiate collective
research ventures, âEUR¦  While extending the software to support such
distributed collaboration and animating the wider conversation is beyond
our abilities at the moment, hopefully there are others who are willing
and able to take this on.

* Andrew Clement is a Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University
of Toronto. He is a co-founder of the Identity, Privacy and Security Institute.
His research and teaching interests are in the social implications of
information/communications technology and human-centred systems
development. Recent work focusses on public information policy for
guiding the development of CanadaâEUR(TM)s information infrastructure,
digitally mediated surveillance, privacy; digital identity
constructions, public participation in information/communication
infrastructures development, and community networking. He has also
written papers and co-edited books in such areas as: internet use in
everyday life, computer supported cooperative work; participatory
design; workplace surveillance; women, work and computerization; end
user computing; and the 'information society' more generally. See:

UN|COMMONS: What does the world want of us and what do we want of it? Commons un
der discussion!

*Essays + Interviews:

*Conference in Bucharest:

*Conference in Berlin
at Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg Platz:
October 22-24, 2015

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