Mass Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Liberal Democracy

Freedom Research Association
News11.10.2018
Freedom Research Association

On September 28-29, 2018, the Freedom Research Association (FRA) organized a two-day conference on the mass surveillance and the future of liberal democracy. The event was sponsored by the Turkey Office of the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation (FNF), the European Liberal Forum (ELF), the International Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute.

The event was opened by the FRA Executive Director Medeni Sungur who illustrated the dystopia represented by the mass surveillance theme by referring to Georges Orwell and his 1984 novel published in 1949.

Head of FNF Turkey Office Dr. Hans-Georg Fleck then joined his welcome notes, by first thanking the ELF and briefly recalling the central aspect of the ELF's work. Preceding the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtable, Dr. Fleck recalled the role of Prof. Dahrendorf as a leading liberal figure in the 1970s and 1980s.

The first-panel discussion titled “Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtable: An Age-Old Debate Revisited: Freedom vs. Security Dilemma in the 21st Century by European Liberal Forum” was moderated by Nevşin Mengü from Deutsche Welle. The panelists were Dr. Salih Bıçakçı, Assoc. Prof. of International Relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Andreas Haggman from the Information Security Group at the Royal Halloway University of London and Dr. Demir Murat Seyrek, Senior Policy Advisor of the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussel. Ms. Mengü introduced the discussion by mentioning the control in Turkey of all media by the political authorities through the Supreme Board of Radio and Television which supervises traditional media such as television and newspapers but also online media such as YouTube and Netflix.

Dr. Salih Bıçakçı then took the floor by announcing that we live in risk society and that it is easy to follow someone with the traces s/he leaves on the internet. According to him, we face a new age of technological authoritarianism in which each information is being used to influence individuals. Dr. Bıçakçı mentioned the existence of intrusive ads, and while he underlined the use of smartphones as helpful tools, he also highlighted their role in providing valuable information to authorities and companies, thus being a burden on individual freedom.

Adopting a different stance, Dr. Demir Murat Seyrek stressed that radical organizations are using advanced technologies and that many attacks were prevented thanks to the use of advanced technologies by secret services. He also pointed out that the use of high technology was very accessible and thus warned that banning high tech would lead to a vast black market.

Taking the discussion from a different perspective, Andreas Haggman informed that rather than trying to look for answers, he preferred to look for the right questions and first wondered whether freedom was only a matter of privacy. Turning the conversation around completely, Mr. Haggman asked: "Who is the threat and who is free?"

Freedom Research Association

The event continued with group discussions where participants discussed several sub-topics.