The Gustavian Weekly

They’re watching you Wazowski: This year’s MAYDAY! Peace Conference focuses on mass surveillance

By Staff Writer - Ella Napton | April 28, 2017 | News

Peace is at the forefront of many Americans’ minds. Many spend their time wondering if there will be peace, how we can work toward peace, and concrete ways to actually make a change in the world. There has been much uncertainty for American citizens in light of the Trump Administration’s move into office. Moreover, with the most recent presidential election there has been speculation about how much information the government shares with its people.

One of the main concerns when it comes to peace, for many, is privacy from those who seem to always be watching. With increased security throughout the nation, from airports to the internet, we never truly know if what we are doing is being tracked or recorded.

The Gustavus’ annual Mayday! Peace Conference is addressing the topic of security and privacy this year through “What Would You do?: Mass Surveillance and the Citizen”. The main focus is on why it matters, and why we should care about mass surveillance as American citizens.

The Peace Conference originated at the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, getting the title “Mayday!” from the international distress call for ships and planes in need of help.

“The first several conferences focused on the nuclear arms race, but since then the conference has addressed all kinds of peace and social justice issues–from last year’s focus on divestment, to food and water, religion and peace, and the role of the United Nations,” Professor Loramy Gerstbauer said.

The conference itemizes Gustavus’ core values. It also allows students a chance to become more educated on topics they may have no other way to learn about. This not only teaches students valuable lessons, but it also gives us the capability to go into the real world, outside of the Gustavus bubble, and be productive and engaged in current events that may or may not directly affect us.

The issues tackled each year represent what not only Americans, but citizens of the world, suffer, both in terms of peace and personal safety. This year’s topic comes just in time to relate to the recent actions made by the Trump Administration and their stance on privacy and the common citizen.

This year the conference will highlight “the government’s abuse of privacy, proper use of surveillance-like tools, and citizen responsibility to guard our privacy and to check government (or corporate) power,” Gerstbauer said. The conference aims to leave attendees with concrete steps and actions they can take upon leaving to ensure progress and safety in terms of that particular year’s topic.

The planning committee worked extremely hard to create a conference and event that will positively impact all those attending, and encourage them to help create a world focused on peace and safety.

This conference will address the issues that arise when a government oversteps their boundaries when it comes to privacy and invades their citizens privacy, even if they believe they are doing so for the common good of the people.

There will be six main political questions to be addressed during the duration of the conference: What are the boundaries of government power and secrecy in times of peace and war? What is the role of citizens in making government transparent and accountable? What will you do and what should we do to protect the rights of citizens? What are the ethical implications of whistleblowing and WikiLeaks? How can you manage your own personal data more safely? What are your ethical responsibilities as a citizen to make power subservient to justice?

The committee is bringing in Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and former assistant deputy attorney for the Reagan administration, as the key speaker for the conference. He also served as an attorney for the Snowden family. He has vast experience when it comes to writing on constitutional issues and has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Times, and He has a J.D. from Harvard Law School and began his political activism career by participating in the Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

There will be additional former employees and members of the government, such as Thomas Drake, a CIA analyst, to discuss ethics, responsibility, and law. Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI Special Agent, will also be speaking. Jane E. Kirtley, the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, will be speaking as well.

The Mayday! Peace Conference will occur on May 3 and begin in Christ Chapel at 10 a.m. with a welcoming ceremony and Bruce Fein’s keynote address.