By Matt McFarland
Edward Snowden on Monday advocated for better online security measures, speaking via Google Hangout at the South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin. Snowden spoke as part of an an American Civil Liberties Union panel, along with analysts Chris Soghoian and Ben Wizner. While the video and audio feed was choppy, Snowden’s message was clear.
“They’re setting fire to the future of the Internet,” Snowden said of the National Security Agency. “We need public advocates. We need public oversight. Some way [to have] trusted figures, sort of civil rights champions to advocate for us, to protect the structure. How do we fix our oversight? How do we structure an oversight model that works? The key factor is accountability.”
Snowden, a former NSA contractor who leaked agency documents to the media, said that America’s policies set a dangerous precedent for the entire world.
“If we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government will accept that has green light to do the same,” he said.
Speaking in front of a backdrop showing the U.S. Constitution, he spoke of feeling an obligation to defend a document he saw being “violated on a massive scale.”
Snowden argued that NSA policies have harmed national security in an era of cyberattacks.
“America has more to lose than anyone else when every attack succeeds,” Snowden said. “When you are the one country in the world who has sort of a vault that’s more full than anyone else’s, it doesn’t make sense for you to be attacking all day and never defending your full vault.”
Snowden has generally remained in the background, perhaps not to distract from the debate on surveillance issues. He made an exception for SXSW, which has become a mecca for the tech community. It seemed an appropriate audience to advocate for end-to-end encryption to better protect user’s data.
Snowden was greeted by applause when his face appeared on the massive screens, and he received a standing ovation from most of those gathered as the talk ended.
Security has been something of a theme at this year’s conference. On Saturday, WikiLaks founder Julian Assange spoke via video conference from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and called on citizens to act against surveillance.
“The ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there, and arguably will be there within a few years. That’s led to a huge transfer of power from the people who are surveilled upon to those who control the surveillance complex,” Assange said.
Update: This post originally said that Snowden appeared through seven proxies. The author regrets missing the apparent joke and not having a better grasp of memes.