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#PDF14 Preview: An Interview with Jillian York

BY Sonia Roubini | Friday, April 18 2014

Our next speaker preview features Jillian York, the Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. Jillian’s work is at the intersection of technology and policy, with a focus on the Arab world. She will join us at #PDF 14 as a main stage speaker.

1. How did you come to be interested in tech and its impact on society?

After I graduated from university, I lived in Morocco for a while, where the influence of tech was palpable. At the same time, the Internet there was mildly censored, which is how I first came to be interested in the topic of Internet controls.

2. What's the most satisfying part of your work?

I love working with nascent digital rights groups and independent activists - EFF is a pretty big and well-known organization now, and I'm grateful for having that platform to be able to support and amplify other activists' work.

3. If you've been to PDF in the past, what are your impressions?

PDF was like TED without all the bulls*&%. Seriously though, what I like about PDF is that it is overtly political. It doesn't try to tone down the discourse. I remember when my friend Alaa Abd El Fattah spoke in 2011 and opened his talk by telling the audience that the Egyptian revolution wasn't nonviolent. People respected his honesty.

4. I understand your main hall keynote will be about the challenge we face getting people to change their online behavior to better protect their privacy. You say the change needs to be at the cultural level. Without giving away your whole talk, can you say a bit more about what you mean by this?

Yes - right now a lot of the talk about protecting our privacy revolves around tools - do I use this tool or that tool? If it's not focused on tools, it's talking about lobbying Congress or changing policies. These are all important measures, but perhaps even more vital is shifting our culture. Surveillance has become so acceptable in so many places, and it's not discussed in schools, it's not something that we really talked about as a society until last year.

5. What are the key issues tech and politics/society to pay attention to at the moment?

Surveillance, not just by the NSA and GCHQ, but by governments all over the world, is a huge one. I also think we need to be thinking more about how private companies not only control our data, but also our speech - For example, last week Vine banned all nudity, which perhaps wouldn't be a big deal if other video-sharing sites didn't have the same policy...no one is talking about the impact that will have on art, on culture.