Like millions of others, NYU graduate student Allison Burtch was shocked by Edward Snowden’s leaks in June. But as internet users got used to the news that major companies were funneling data to the NSA, she wondered what effect it was actually having. “When Snowden first leaked the documents, I was sitting around with friends, and I asked them ‘Okay, are you still using Facebook? Are you still using Gmail? Are you still on whatever internet provider?’” she says. “And none of us had changed our internet habits.” In response, Burtch and other volunteers with the art and technology collective Eyebeam organized PRISM Breakup, a combination art exhibit and three-day conference meant to make encryption and security accessible to everyone.
That goal has motivated privacy advocates for years, but the recent leaks have brought their lexicon front and center. “Everyone knows what metadata is,” says fellow organizer Aurelia Moser. “I had this alert on Google for all of the articles about metadata [before the leaks], and nothing would come to my inbox every week. Now, I get this dump of about 40 articles about metadata. People are talking about it in sitcoms.” While the similarly named but unrelated PRISM Break gave users alternatives to products by Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others, PRISM Breakup provided a physical meeting point. Its biggest issue, though, wasn’t teaching people to secure their data. It was figuring out how to gather a host of different problems under the banner of “anti-surveillance.”
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