As CNN reported on Mar. 4, 2014, “fugitive National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has joined the speaker's roster" for Austin’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival, better known as SXSW Interactive, via teleconference” on Monday, Mar. 10, 2014. This is more than breaking news; it is dumbfounding to think that anyone would give a premiere audience to this man “accused of divulging details of top-secret surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency.”
How the story is being pitched, spun, slanted and swirled, per SXSW, from today’s news release from SXSW Interactive, is:
On Mon., March 10 at 11 a.m., join us for a conversation between Edward Snowden and Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist of the American Civil Liberties Union. The conversation will be focused on the impact of the NSA’s spying efforts on the technology community, and the ways in which technology can help to protect us from mass surveillance. Hear directly from Snowden about his beliefs on what the tech community can and must do to secure the private data of the billions of people who rely on the toors and services that we build.
The SXSW Interactive is setting up in Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center as well as Ballroom BC, and “Gold or Platinum badges are required to attend the session.” For those who are badge-less, the Texas Tribune nonprofit media distributor will be livestreaming the session for free. All people who think Snowden is worth listening to can also find a free replay on the ACLU website.
Is it really free-thinking, openminded, and a hallmark of freedom in this country, nay the state of Texas, and the capitol city of the state, to give central focus of a festival that was founded to celebrate live music with up and coming artists as well as established stars, over to an individual who is currently a fugitive from the United States charged with “espionage and theft of government property”? What was once a destination Spring Break event now has refocused all attention on a singular side-show carnival.
In the mind of the former CIA and NSA contractor, he could very well be thinking he’s a prize tiger on display. Roar, Snowden, roar. Come one, come all to the “sideshow of sell-out.” In reality Ed’s a clown, because he actually fancies himself a pop culture icon, with a big fan base to hear what he thinks and high-five him for doing what he has been charged with doing. Problem is, no one can high-five him in person, because he is not allowed in the United States at this time, pesky laws being what they are and all that detail stuff.
But there’s at least two clowns in next week’s circus. You can also hear WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, too. Bet you anything that Assange is more than cranky at being in second-best billing behind traitor Snowden. Can’t you imagine the cybersnarking as to who is the most important, nay better, traitor (oh yeah, harbinger of freedom, that’s how they see themselves) of the two?
Everyone who likely defends freedom of speech and freedom of information clings to those fundamental principles in highlighting and heralding the right of anyone who wants to hear Snowden’s propaganda and Assange’s blathering, and they’re entitled to it according to the U.S. Bill of Rights. But it’s freedom of speech at what cost? What is the cost to national security, to the lives of those engaged in protecting the United States and the families who may lose them as a result of security compromises? It’s a crying shame that Texas has to be the site for this act of open-minded stupidity. Austin, Texas, calls itself "the live music capital of the world." Texas music festivals should be about entertainment, and the expansive digital interactive world could do just fine without the presence of Snowden or Assange.
Andy Warhol said, “Everyone is famous for 15 minutes,” and apparently no one told SXSW that Snowden’s 15 minutes was up a long time ago. Everything is bigger in Texas, we used to say proudly. Today, it’s just a bigger case of “stupid.”
Free speech is (still) free, so feel free to comment and disagree.