Do you have a student in your class that cares about human rights and freedoms and is profoundly interested in computers? Maybe that student should know about the research and work that is being done monitoring and analyzing the exercise of power at University of Toronto’s own Citizen Lab.
The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto, Canada focusing on advanced research and development at the intersection of digital media, global security, and human rights.
The Toronto Star has named Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert one of 12 influential Canadians whose thoughts influence the way the world works.
“Godfather of Gen-H hacktivists, Deibert presides over a fiercely dedicated network of cyberdetectives based at U of T, but stretching worldwide, who have monitored everything from Chinese electronic espionage to crackdowns on the Arab Spring. He has won kudos as one of the five most influential IT security thinkers in the world, a cutting-edge human rights defender and one of Esquire magazine’s ‘best and brightest.’”
WHO: Ron Deibert, University of Toronto professor, director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs.
WHY: Cultivates a hothouse where human rights meet cyberspace.
QUOTE: “We need to watch the watchers.”
Godfather of Gen-H hacktivists, Deibert presides over a fiercely dedicated network of cyberdetectives based at U of T, but stretching worldwide, who have monitored everything from Chinese electronic espionage to crackdowns on the Arab Spring. He has won kudos as one of the five most influential IT security thinkers in the world, a cutting-edge human rights defender and one of Esquire magazine’s “best and brightest.”
“I am passionate about the need for a global communications network through which citizens around the world can debate ideas, access information and speak freely,” he says.
But it comes with a spoiler alert — there is a “dangerously escalating arms race in cyberspace” and it is “rapidly degrading in ways that are detrimental to human rights.” Governments routinely censor the Internet, big corporations provide the wherewithal to monitor our communications and track individuals “with a degree of fine-grained precision that would have made tyrants of days past envious.”
Raised in Vancouver’s rough east side, Deibert applied street skills when he founded Citizen Lab with a grant from the Ford Foundation in 2001. Working with hundreds of global researchers and monitors, Citizen Lab has exposed electronic evildoers and recently mounted a “major global study to document and analyze cyber threats faced by human rights groups worldwide.”
In spite of success, Deibert says he’s disappointed in Ottawa’s cautious attitude to protecting cyberspace as an “open commons.” Rather than “stumbling along” while it is being carved up and militarized, he adds, Canada should be at the forefront of a movement to shore it up as “bedrock for global civil society.”
In the year ahead, Diebert warns, the challenge is to “keep up with the growing cyber security industrial complex that is transforming the Internet.” And he says, “Cold War giant” companies are linking up with smaller ones to peddle censorship software, geolocational tracking, phone monitoring and offensive computer network attack products and services.
“We need to lift the lid on cyberspace to find out what goes on beneath the surface,” says Deibert. “We need to take advanced digital mapping tools and turn them around to watch the watchers. We need to protect the Net.”