Snowden: NSA 'Set Fire' to Internet, Techies are 'Firefighters'
Edward Snowden accused the NSA and its global counterparts of "setting fire to the future of the Internet" during his videoconference discussion at South by Southwest in Texas on Monday, and he called on the tech community members in the audience to be "the firefighters."
Snowden spoke remotely from Russia, where he received asylum when he fled the United States in 2013 after leaking classified government surveillance documents to journalists including Glenn Greenwald. His 11 a.m. CT appearance at SXSW, a technology and music festival in Austin, Tex., are his most public comments since the leaks.
He explained that he chose popular tech confab SXSW as the platform for his talk because "the tech community ... they're the folks who can really fix things, who can enforce our rights."
Snowden characterized the NSA's surveillance program, as well as similar programs from governments around the globe, as "setting fire to the future of the Internet."
"You guys are all the firefighters," Snowden said, addressing the SXSW audience. "We need you to help us fix this."
Also on the panel was Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, who agreed with Snowden on his call to action.
"We need to lock things down," Soghoian said. "We need to make services secure out of the box. It's going to require a rethink from developers."
The Texas Tribune is livestreaming the Snowden event.
Snowden's appearance infuriated at least one lawmaker: In a letter published publicly on Friday, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., called on SXSW's organizers to take Snowden off the bill.
"When I served in the Army along the Iron Curtain we had a word for a person who absconds with information and provides it to another nation: traitor," Pompeo wrote. He also called Snowden a "common criminal."
The ACLU's Ben Wizner, who moderated the discussion with Snowden, read part of Pompeo's letter aloud before Snowden appeared on screen.
The SXSW festival also featured a video talk with Snowden supporter Julian Assange on Saturday, in which the Wikileaks founder reportedly called the NSA "a rogue agency."