Be Careful What You Build


Dr. Maureen Webb

Date of Talk


Maureen Webb is a labour, human rights and constitutional lawyer. Her book, Coding Democracy: How Hackers Are Disrupting Power, Surveillance and Authoritarianism, published by The MIT Press, made Wired magazine’s “Thirteen Must Read Books for Spring 2020” list. Also the author of Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post 9-11 World (San Francisco: City Lights, 2007), Maureen’s work has been praised by voices as diverse as Craig Newmark, Randi Weingarten, Cory Doctorow, Andrew Feenberg, Jeremy Waldron, and Mark Danner. She’s been invited to speak in many venues, including Chatham House, Virtual Futures, the Oxford Literary Festival, the London Front Line club, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the World Affairs Council of California, the Toronto International Festival of Authors, the Gray Area (San Francisco) and most recently the Goethe Institute’s One Zero Society/Zeitgeister forum. Maureen has testified before Commons and Senate committees ontechnology and national security matters, taught comparative national security law at UBC Law School, and written numerous articles for peer-reviewed legal journals, including one on the review of the Canadian Anti-terrorism Act that was cited extensively in the trial judgment in R. v. Khawaja.


Hackers have been pioneers in the blockchain space, creating important prototypes such as Bitcoin and imagining some of the most radical solutions for distributed governance and empowerment in the digital era. At a time when people’s faith in elites to govern has never been lower, hackers and their citizen allies have been taking things into their own hands: they are hacking business, law, property, banking, money, politics, electoral processes, and democratic decision-making itself. Drawing on her research and on interviews with hackers from the Chaos Communications Camp to Silicon Valley, the Italian Parliament to the streets of Barcelona, the hacker labs of MIT to the halls of Harvard law school, Webb describes the astounding array of hacker experiments underway right now and how they could fundamentally change our current political economy. But will blockchain actually improve that political economy or will it deliver us more surely into a dystopia of concentrations of power, mass surveillance, and authoritarian control? That depends on the civics education and ethics of the engineers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders leading the blockchain revolution, Webb argues. The hacker ethos is ‘in the DNA’ of many who work in the digital field. It is a rich tradition we can use to guide us.

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First Nations land acknowledegement

We acknowledge that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

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