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Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College Hosts International Conference on Surveillance and the Private Life, October 15–16

“Why Privacy Matters” Featuring NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden, Robert Litt (Second General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Charged with Prosecuting Snowden), David Brin, Kate Crawford, Ben Wizner, Anita Allen,

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College will host its eighth annual international conference from Thursday, October 15 to Friday, October 16 in Olin Hall, on Bard’s Annandale-on-Hudson campus. The two-day conference, “Why Privacy Matters,” asks: What do we lose when we lose our privacy? Reading on Kindles, searching Google, and using cell phones leave a data trail of intimate details. Governments and businesses track our comings, goings, and doings. Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, speaks for many when he says, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” It is easy to note the violence of the slogan “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” but few offer an intelligent response. Why do we willfully participate in the loss of our privacy? How is it that we rarely register its loss? Do we simply value privacy less? It is time to ask why privacy matters? It is amidst this sense that privacy is being lost and we are powerless to resist its loss that the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College asks: How can a right to privacy and a meaningful private life exist today?

Hannah Arendt saw the private realm as the essential refuge for human uniqueness. In daily life, she writes, we “return back from the outside world and withdraw into the security of private life within four walls.” These walls of the private “enclose a secure place, without which no living thing can thrive.” For Arendt, “Everything that lives, not vegetative life alone, emerges from darkness and, however strong its natural tendency to thrust itself into the light, it nevertheless needs the security of darkness to grow at all.” Privacy guards the dark recesses of the human heart. We all transgress taboos and even a few laws. Yet, when we are forced to police private urges and actions by public standards, our belief in public morality appears hypocritical. Distrusting ourselves, we trust no one, which is the source of cynicism of political life.

“Why Privacy Matters” convenes a diverse group of thinkers to ask questions such as: Does our loss of control over our data impact our inner lives? Is freedom possible in a world without privacy? When indiscretions are knowable, who will have the courage to enter public life? Can we hold government and business accountable for their use of private data? Why is government becoming more secret as individuals embrace transparency? Do we have a meaningful right to be left alone?

Featured speakers at the conference include:

Anita Allen is Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In 2010, President Obama appointed her to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. Her books include Unpopular Privacy: What Must We Hide, Everyday Ethics: Opinion-Writing about the Things that Matter Most, and Privacy Law and Society.

Carol Becker is dean of faculty and a professor of the arts at Columbia University School of the Arts. Her research interests include feminist theory, art and social responsibility, and American cultural history. She has published widely, but several of her titles include: The Subversive Imagination: Artists, Society and Social Responsibility; Essays on Art, Institutions, Gender, and Anxiety; and The Invisible Drama: Women and the Anxiety of Change (translated into seven languages).

Roger Berkowitz is associate professor of political studies and human rights at Bard College and the academic director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities. He is author of Gift of Science: Leibniz and the Modern Legal Tradition, and co-editor of Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics.

Leon Botstein is president of Bard College, chairman of Central European University, board member of Open Society Foundations, and the music director of the American Symphony Orchestra from 1992 to present. He is also artistic director of Summerscape and Bard Music Festivals, and was music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (2003 to 2010).

David Brin is an American scientist and award-winning author of science fiction. He has served as visiting scholar at NASA in Exobiology. Brin is the winner of the Obeler Freedom of Speech award, McGannon Communication Policy Research Award. His science fiction books include but are not limited to Earth and The Postman. Brin has received one Nebula award, two Hugo awards, and four Locus awards for his fiction. He also penned The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?

Josh Cohen is professor of modern literary theory at Goldsmiths University in London. Cohen is the winner of the British Medical Association Chair’s Choice Award for The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark. In 2014, Cohen won the British Psychoanalytical Society Harold Steward Essay Prize for best essay on Independent psychoanalysis.

Kate Crawford is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New York City, visiting professor at MIT’s Center for Civic Media, and senior fellow at NYU’s Information Law Institute. She is on the advisory boards of the Information Program at Open Society Foundation, The New Museum’s art and technology incubator NEW INC, and several academic journals including Big Data and Society. She is author of Adult Themes Rewriting the Rules of Adulthood.

Jay Edelson is founder and managing partner of Edelson PC in Chicago, Illinois. He has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading class action lawyers, especially in the areas of privacy, technology, and consumer advocacy.

Rochelle Gurstein is the author of The Repeal of Reticence: America’s Cultural and Legal Struggles Over Free Speech, Obscenity, Sexual Liberation, and Modern Art.

Scott Horton is a fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine. As a practicing attorney, Horton’s focus has been investment and emerging markets. He is the author of Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare.

Jerome Kohn is a trustee of the Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust, and editor of Arendt’s unpublished and uncollected writings: The Promise of Politics, Essays on Understanding 1930-1954, Responsibility and Judgment, and The Jewish Writings.

Ann Lauterbach is an American poet and writer. Lauterbach has published several poetry collections, such as Under the Sign. Lauterbach has also been the recipient of many awards, including but not limited to the MacArthur Fellowship and the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts.

Robert Litt is the second General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). He is charged with prosecuting Edward Snowden. Before joining the ODNI, Mr. Litt was a partner with the law firm of Arnold and Porter, LLP. He served as a member of the governing body of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and a member of the Advisory Committee to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

Michael Mandiberg is an artist, programmer, designer, and educator. His multi-media artwork comments on political and societal issues. Frequently, these pieces have to do with issues pertaining to the internet. For example, he sold all of his possessions online on Shop Mandiberg. In another piece, he created a printed and bound edition of Wikipedia in an exhibit called “From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!” He holds an assistant professorship at the College of Staten Island and is a member of the Doctoral Faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center and has been the recipient of numerous residencies and commissions.

Wyatt Mason is a senior fellow of the Hannah Arendt Center and contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Harper’s Magazine. His writing also appears in New York Review of Books, GQ, and The New Yorker.

Uday Singh Mehta is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is the author of The Anxiety of Freedom: Imagination and Individuality in the Political Thought of John Locke and Liberalism and Empire. The American Political Association awarded him the J. David Greenstone Book Award in 2001 for the best book in history and theory.

Fritz Schwarz is chief counsel for The Church Commission, investigating activities of the U.S. Intelligence agencies. Mr. Schwarz has written Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy. He is the winner of the 2014 Ridenhour Courage Prize, which is presented to individuals for their courageous and lifelong defense of the public interest and commitment to social justice.

Edward Snowden (joining us via satellite) is a former CIA employee. In 2013, he leaked classified information from the National Security Agency, which revealed global surveillance programs run by the U.S. and European governments. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property. He was granted a three year asylum in Russia and currently resides there.

Hans Teerds is an architect based in Amsterdam and teaches at the Faculty of Architecture of Delft University of Technology. He is currently working on a PhD on the public aspects of architecture. Recently he published, together with Johan van der Zwart Living Landscape: Manifesto for City and Country (2012). Teerds is a member of the editorial board of OASE Journal for Architecture.

Jeremy Waldron is professor of law at New York University. In 1978 he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand. He has published widely on jurisprudence and political theory. His books include Dignity, Rank, and Rights (2012); Partly Laws Common to All Mankind: Foreign Law in American Courts (2012); The Harm of Hate Speech (2012); Torture, Terror, and Trade-offs: Philosophy for the White House (2010); Law and Disagreement (1999); and The Dignity of Legistlation (1999).

Ben Wizner is director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. He has litigated numerous cases involving government surveillance, unlawful detention, targeted killing, and torture, and he is a legal advisor to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Arendt Center conferences are attended by nearly a thousand people and reach an international audience via live webcast. Past speakers have included maverick inventor Ray Kurzweil, irreverent journalist Christopher Hitchens, businessman Hunter Lewis, author Zadie Smith, New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, and presidential candidate and political activist Ralph Nader. Previous conferences have explored the intellectual roots of the economic crisis, the future of humanity in an age increasingly dominated by technology that’s changing how humans live, the crisis in American education, and American exceptionalism.

For a full conference schedule and bios of featured speakers, please visit For more information or any questions about the conference, please contact or 845-758-7878.



All events are in Olin Hall unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, October 15


Leon Botstein (Introduction) and Roger Berkowitz


Keynote Speaker: David Brin


Rochelle Gurstein, Hans Teerds, and Jerome Kohn


Break (Lunch)


Ben Wizner and Fritz Schwarz


Jay Edelson


Kate Crawford and Uday Mehta


Anita Allen  


Reception (Olin Atrium)


Friday, October 16


Wyatt Mason and Ann Lauterbach


Josh Cohen


Jeremy Waldron


Break (Lunch)


Michael Mandiberg and Carol Becker

3:00 pm

Keynote Speaker: Edward Snowden


Robert Litt and Scott Horton


Reception (Olin Atrium)


Wednesday, October 14 at 7:00pm (optional)

Bard and West Point: Pre-conference Debate

Is national security more important than the individual right to privacy?

Please join us for an exciting public debate inspired by the topic of this year's Hannah Arendt Center Conference, “Why Privacy Matters.”

Bertelsmann Campus Center, Multipurpose Room



The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College is an expansive home for thinking in the spirit of Hannah Arendt. The Arendt Center’s double mission is, first, to sponsor and support the highest quality scholarship on Hannah Arendt and her work; and, second, to be an intellectual incubator for engaged humanities thinking at Bard College and beyond, thinking that elevates and deepens the public argument that is the bedrock of our democracy.

The Arendt Center cares for and makes available the Hannah Arendt Library, with nearly 5000 books from Hannah Arendt’s personal library, many with marginalia and notes. The Arendt Center oversees projects including The Courage to Be, Hate and the Human Condition, and The American Jewish Peace Archive.

At Bard, the Arendt Center sponsors short courses on Hannah Arendt and the themes for our conferences and sponsors numerous lectures and events for students, faculty, and members. Above all, the Arendt Center promotes thinking that challenges common sense assumptions and gives depth to public understandings. The effort is to provide an intellectual space for thinking that can reframe the questions that form the center of our democracy.


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This event was last updated on 02-16-2016