Privacy@Michigan takes over Michigan Theater with 1984 screening and faculty panel

Privacy@Michigan hosted a 40th-anniversary screening of the film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 and a U-M faculty panel discussion at the Michigan Theater on March 6, 2024. The event was co-sponsored by Information and Technology Services (ITS) and the U-M School of Information (UMSI).

Event attendees enjoyed free popcorn and picked up movie-themed stickers and assorted ITS Information Assurance Safe Computing giveaways. In addition, UMSI students representing the Security Privacy Interaction Lab (SPILab) hosted a privacy clinic. The students provided guidance to attendees on privacy settings for devices and accounts, and offered advice for protecting personal information in today’s hyperconnected world.

Following the screening, Barbara L. McQuade, a professor from practice at Michigan Law, and Christian Davenport, U-M Professor of Political Science, engaged the audience in a thought-provoking conversation moderated by Sol Bermann, U-M Chief Information Security Officer and Executive Director of Information Assurance. The panelists acknowledged that the movie was challenging to watch. Prof. Davenport shared that he missed the clarity of the period when the totalitarian government was the obvious enemy. “Political totalitarianism has been displaced by economic totalitarianism, with different actors and different challenges,” Davenport observed, noting that today a few tech companies dominate the realm of control and surveillance. In Davenport’s view, our dependence on devices and connectivity leaves no exit, nothing with which to replace the current system: “Since we cannot coherently challenge the reality of economic totalitarianism, the film is even more depressing this time.”

Prof. McQuade introduced her new book, Attack from Within: How Disinformation Is Sabotaging America, and urged the audience to reflect on the Party’s command to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears and to consider “Just how bleak our future would be if we don’t take power through truth.” In McQuade’s view, we are losing the battle for the present and the future as we engage in sanitizing our past instead of accepting our country with all its flaws and trying to learn from them.

When asked by an audience member if the film offered any hope, both panelists pointed to the strength and resilience of humans. “Governments can control our behaviors, benefits, and conditions, but not our thoughts,” said McQuade, “No matter what happens with our government, we can have our thoughts and ideas… we still have the power to overcome this political moment and have the power to demand truth.” Davenport explained that governments and militaries are always outnumbered and, as history shows, can be overtaken: “When humans are subject to oppression, they find a way to rebel against it.”

In their final remarks, the speakers underscored the importance of active engagement in democratic processes in various forms – from voting to attending events such as this one. In a college town like Ann Arbor, “every other person around you is either acquiring knowledge or generating knowledge – take advantage of that,” advised Davenport.

Sol Bermann closed the event by expressing gratitude for the two panelists’ contributions, “It’s hard sometimes not to feel bleak, and that is why the light Christian and Barb shine and the work they do have never been more important.”

To view a recording of the panel discussion, visit the 1984 event page.

To see recordings of past Privacy@Michigan events, browse the Safe Computing website. Join the Safe Computing mailing list to receive information on future cybersecurity and privacy events, and visit Six Words about Privacy to share what privacy means to you.