Edward Snowden, the controversial former NSA contractor whose revelations about secret government spy programs have rocked the world, spoke live from Russia via videoconference at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival on Monday.
“The interpretation of the Constitution has been changed in secret,” Snowden told attendees at the Austin tech conference. “That’s something the public ought to know about.”
Billed as a conversation between Snowden and Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union, Snowden appeared in front of a green screen of Article I of the Constitution and repeatedly stressed the importance of public discourse with regard to online surveillance issues. When asked by moderator Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project and Snowden’s legal advisor, whether or not he would do it all over again, Snowden answered, “absolutely yes.”
“Every society in the world has benefited,” Snowden said of his leak of classified documents about an NSA surveillance program he worked on as a contractor, a revelation that has forced him to seek political asylum in Russia.
Snowden’s video-feed over Google Hangout was choppy thanks to the “seven proxies” they used to guard his location, and at one point, Wizner said they lost the signal. Soghoian picked up the slack by elucidating on Snowden’s answers.
“Let me be clear about one really important thing: His disclosures have improved internet security,” Soghoian said of Snowden.
Because it was hosted by the ACLU, there was more than a touch of political deification to the event, but for the most part, the thrust of the conversation was more technical than political. Snowden and Soghoian talked about security topics like the need for improved encryption measures and practical steps that users can take to ensure their privacy. They also spoke about the need for better cryptography as well as the dilemma faced by large internet brands as they measure security concerns against their aim of profiting off personal data through advertising.