Edward Snowden to talk to Cambridge students

The CIA whistleblower will appear via video link at the Maths Faculty

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Cambridge University’s mysterious-sounding Ethics in Mathematics Society clearly has a knack for attracting some of the world’s most powerful yet enigmatic individuals. When Julian Assange, the notorious editor of WikiLeaks, delivered a lecture to the same group at the Maths Faculty last year, word only got out on the morning of the event.

So when the Ethics in Maths Society advertised another “Secret Speaker” to its mailing list last week, schools of drooling mathmos were left trying to solve this latest speaker puzzle.

His identity has now been confirmed, however, as the CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The former US Government employee, who sparked worldwide scandal by leaking classified data from their National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, will deliver a speech via video link at 4.15pm this Wednesday at the Maths Faculty.

Barring a seismic Russian foreign policy shift, Snowden will be beamed in from Moscow, where he has been granted temporary asylum as he faces charges of two counts of espionage and theft of government property from the US Department of Justice.

Snowden, depending on your point of view, is either a national traitor or the Robin Hood of private intelligence, having revealed the extent of NSA spying – which encompasses the phone records of senior EU and German officials and millions of American and Chinese citizens, to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers.

More recently, the North Carolina native has called out Facebook for their role in the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting controversy, so he may have some very relevant shots to fire.

While (ironically) too many mathmos to count said they were impressed by the Society’s ability to draw such a high-profile and influential speaker, others cast doubts over whether his actions showed sufficient expertise to merit a platform at the university.

“How is he qualified?” said a second-year undergraduate at Clare College. “Anyone in his position could have leaked that data but everyone else has chosen to respect the need for secrecy, so I don’t know how on earth he could have a deeper ethical insight.

“The logic behind giving Snowden this publicity, as opposed to a number of innovative and talented mathematicians, is quite similar to The Cambridge Union inviting a soap star for their ‘celebrity appeal’,” said another mathmo. “Then again, I look forward to hearing how he justifies his current near-mythical status.”

Perhaps this speaks to the pressure of exam term, but other students were simply indifferent. “I don’t think I’ll be going to the talk,” said Tom Wang, a student at Girton College.

Attendance to the talk is by registration only at the following Eventbrite link but be warned: it seems unlikely that non-maths students might be admitted to the illustrious lecture.

We’ll be honest, The Tab doesn’t know many mathmos, but we will do our best to find out what goes down.