Max Snowden

5 Themes From Today’s Snowden Livestream at SXSW

on Monday, Mar. 10th

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden addressed participants of the South By Southwest Interactive conference today via Google Hangout in an event organized by SXSW and the American Civil Liberties Union.

A video of the hour long event is available on YouTube, but the seven proxies that Snowden’s livestream was bounced through and what sounds t these ears like a poor microphone placement decision make the video all but unwatchable. Happily for posterity’s sake there are plenty of people who put up with the technical glitches and posted highlights so that the rest of us have something to talk about.*

Below the fold: five big themes that emerge from the coverage.

No Regrets

Despite his expatriated status and the very real possibility that he’ll never step foot on American shores again, Snowden maintains that he has no regrets.

Corporate vs. Government Surveillance

“Companies can surveil you to sell you products, but they can’t kill you, like governments can. That’s the difference.” –Edward Snowden via Indiewire

Snowden is regularly seen as a libertarian hero, and this line is a bit of red meat for that crowd.

Mass Surveillance Is Inefficient

The unfortunate thing about this is that the people who should probably pay attention to this critique are unlikely to hear it because of the source.

The Tech Sector As Surveillance Watchdog

Noting that Congress had failed in its role of oversight of the national security apparatus Snowden said:

“We need a watchdog that watches Congress.” (via National Journal)

That sums up neatly the underlying theme of the talk, as filtered through the media: that the tech community has the means to fight back against surveillance overreach.

“I would say South by Southwest and the technology community – the people who are in Austin right now – they’re the folks who can really fix things, who can enforce our rights through technical standards even when Congress hasn’t yet gotten to the point of creating legislation to protect our rights in the same manner…

“You guys who are in the room now are all the firefighters, and we need you to help fix this.” -Edward Snowden via Digital Trends.

This assertion didn’t go unchallenged, at least not online:

And there lies the rub: information is power, and control of that information is the key to that power. Where the locus of control should be is just one point in the larger debate over surveillance and the role of the Internet in free societies.

Encryption Works

For those who are concerned about government–and private–snooping on their communications Snowden recommends end to end encryption. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story and has had a large role in coordinating the Snowden papers, offered up a How-To link in the Twitter chat:

The Poynter Institute  has done a wonderful job collecting the Twitter conversation highlights in a Storify thread. There you can see the oft-noted irony of Snowden speaking from Russia and feminist critique of Snowden as a tech celebrity amongst the range of reactions to the talk.

*I tried to muddle through, but as I listened to the echo-chamber audio the voice of the Yellow King began to whisper tales of Carcosa. I had to turn it off to save my sanity.


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