In his first live video appearance since his earth-rattling disclosures, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden spoke before audiences at the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology, music and film conference in Austin, Texas on Monday.
With a live stream provided by the Texas Tribune, the world was able to witness the conversation between Snowden and Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist. The talk focused specifically on the impact of the NSA's vast dragnet operations on the technology community and ways in which users can protect themselves from mass surveillance.
According to the event program, the whistleblower will use this platform to "urge the entrepreneurs, innovators, makers, hackers, geeks, founders, investors and leading-edge thinkers who attend SXSW Interactive to build better systems that better protect user privacy."
The conversation was moderated by Ben Wizner, Snowden's legal advisor and director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
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In an interview published Sunday, Wizner told Kashmir Hill at Forbes Magazine that Snowden had chosen SXSW as a means to "reintroduc[e] himself," specifically to the community of people who are interested in—and potentially carry the solution to—the ways in which security has been compromised by intelligence agencies.
“The tech community, particularly people worried about security, has been radicalized by these disclosures. They now see that their threat model needs to include the NSA as an adversary if they are going to protect their systems,” Wizner said. “We were hoping that here we could have a more elevated conversation about the technology side [of debates regarding NSA surveillance]. What does the technology community need to know? How should they respond? Is it a lost cause or not? Are there things we can do at the technological level that will not require us to wait for dysfunctional legislatures to fix the problem for us?”
“I think this is a community that will welcome this chance to have a conversation with Ed Snowden,” Wizner continued. “Ed can still do the Oprah interview one day if that’s what he wants to do. But we’re not here to talk about his personal life, or what he does every day, or what any network journalist would have to ask. We’re here to talk about the issues. It’s a call to arms.”
Ahead of the talk, the ACLU released an online petition calling on President Obama to grant Snowden "full immunity for his patriotic acts."
"When Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA, he single-handedly reignited a global debate about government surveillance and our most fundamental rights as individuals," reads the statement attached to the petition which, as of Monday morning, had garnered 44,582 signatures.