March 11, 2014
Edward Snowden Speaks At SXSW
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Speaking remotely from an undisclosed location in Russia, Edward Snowden told a packed room at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas that the National Security Agency in the US had essentially “set fire to the internet” through the use of clandestine surveillance techniques – techniques that Snowden revealed by leaking secret documents he acquired while working for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
"The NSA...they're setting fire to the future of the Internet. And the people in this room, you guys are the firefighters. We need you to help us fix this," Snowden said while speaking at the event via Google Hangout.
Responding to a question, Snowden said he had no regrets about leaking the classified documents – even though his actions have made him a wanted man in the eyes of the US government.
"Would I do it again? Absolutely. Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we had a right to," he said.
The audience appeared to be fairly receptive to the comments being made by Snowden – punctuating his remarks and responses with rounds of applause at times. Snowden argued that he had taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, yet what he saw in classified documents were a clear breach of the founding American document. Snowden said the tech community has a responsibility to push back against the scope of the government surveillance program he helped to reveal.
"There's a political response that needs to occur, but there's also a tech response that needs to occur,” he said.
Snowden called for greater awareness among Internet users who could be supplied with better tech tools to ensure that their online activities aren’t being monitored.
"This is something that people have to be able to interact with, and the way we interact with it now is not that good," he said. "We need to lock things down and make things secure out of the box. Developers will have to think differently.”
Two moderators – the ACLU's Chris Sogohian and Snowden’s attorney Ben Wizner – ran the event, which included questions from both audience members and from Twitter. The first question came from Tim Berners-Lee, who unleashed the World Wide Web 25 years ago this week. Berners-Lee asked Snowden how he might alter the US surveillance apparatus.
"We need public oversight ... some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us,” Snowden responded. “We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we're not informed, we can't consent to these (government) policies."
When Snowden was asked about surveillance from the government versus surveillance from private companies like Google or Facebook – he said that government was worse because "the government has the ability to deprive you of rights. They can jail you."
Fleeing the United States after leaking the sensitive documents, Snowden currently has political asylum in Russia. The federal government has since charged him with espionage and theft of government property.
The SXSW Interactive conference where Snowden spoke is an annual event that has gained a reputation as the place to be for aspiring programmers and the tech start-up community.