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Edward Snowden at SXSW: The NSA is setting fire to the future of the Internet

Caitlin McGarry | March 11, 2014
Edward Snowden has a piece of advice for you, the average American Internet user: Employ whatever encryption tools you have at your disposal to make the National Security Agency's job a little bit harder.

Snowden and Soghoian agreed that companies like Google and Facebook prioritize data collection for ad-selling purposes over data protection for users. End-to-end encryption gets in the way of what those companies can see and use for their own purposes.

"The irony that we're using Google Hangouts to talk to Ed Snowden is not lost on me, or on anyone here," Soghoian said.

A serious shift for SXSW
Some officials weren't happy that Snowden appeared at SXSW in any form. Congressman Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, urged festival organizers to rescind Snowden's invitation and claimed that Snowden's leaks have put U.S. intelligence efforts at risk. Obviously organizers disagreed.

"I appreciate his interest in SXSW, but I've never uninvited a speaker, and so we wouldn't do this with Snowden," SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest told Forbes. "Our goal here is to be an open platform. I'd love to have the NSA giving a lecture. I hope it goes off flawlessly because I think it's the biggest thing we've ever done, in terms of political and cultural relevance. It's a big deal."

Snowden's appearance at South By Southwest, in addition to festival interviews with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and security journalist Glenn Greenwald, signal a more serious future for the festival that moves beyond app announcements and the social scene.

After coming forward to claim credit for the NSA leaks, Snowden confessed his biggest concern was that people wouldn't care. Clearly that's not the case.

"When I came out with this, it wasn't so I could single-handedly change the government," Snowden said. "I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and I saw that Constitution being violated on a massive scale."

Privacy, big data, and online surveillance have become a few of the most pressing issues of our time. If SXSW had ignored those topics in favor of flavor-of-the-month apps, it would have lost all relevance.


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