AUSTIN, Texas, March 15, 2014 — Data security and mass government surveillance took center stage at this year’s South by Southwest festival. A series of high-profile speakers addressed the issues head-on.
Google Chief Eric Schmidt, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and NSA leaker Edward Snowden all addressed the topics to some degree during the festival.
Snowden said the Constitution is being reinterpreted. As such, federal authorities have moved away from avoiding illegal searches and seizures to seizing information, but saying they don’t search what’s been seized.
“Would I do it again? Absolutely. Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we had a right to,” he said, according to CNN.
“I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale,” he added
Snowden, who addressed the crowd via teleconference, was warmly received by the thousands who packed into the Austin Convention Center to hear him speak. He suggested better encryption may be the best defense against mass government surveillance.
Snowden’s address followed a Saturday virtual appearance by Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder lambasted the NSA, saying “it has grown to be a rogue agency.”
The controversial Assange said global surveillance by governments is almost here and said additional leaks are forthcoming, but declined to give details to avoid tipping off targets of the leaks. As crowds thinned out toward the end of his remarks, Assange suggested President Obama is powerless to stop the NSA from snooping on citizens.
“What would happen tomorrow if Barack Obama said, ‘I’m going to disband the NSA,’” Assange asked. “Well, on paper, he has that power. We all know that that is impossible. It’s simply impossible for that to occur.
“People would come up with lots of dirt, attack him in some political manner,” Assange added. “The National Security Agency, having intercepted all his information, has dirt on everyone. Congress, perhaps, would impeach him for some act or another. He would be found to have committed some criminal act. So, it is not possible. There does not appear to be proper civilian oversight.”
Assange, who remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, urged the audience to take action.
“We have to do something about it; all of us have to do something about it,” Assange said. “You might think you’re small, insignificant, and how could you possibly do something about this situation. What I’ve just described is a movement towards a form of surveillance totalitarianism. And we know once we have that, if history is any guide, we get the other forms of totalitarianism as well.”