From somewhere within Vladimir Putin's Russia, NSA leaker and free speech advocate (see that image background?) Edward Snowden spoke with his fellow Americans Monday for the first time since leaving the U.S.
The former CIA employee now charged with espionage, teleconferenced in to a SXSW panel moderated by two members of the ACLU. In a one-hour session -- which included fielding Twitter user-submitted questions and serial advocacy for encrypting personal information -- Snowden covered plenty of ground, discussing online privacy (or lack thereof), national security and, of course, his own decisions.
So what did he say? Here are the highlights:
-- "Would I do it again? Absolutely... I took an oath to defend the Constitution, and I felt the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale."
-- "We've actually had tremendous intelligence failures because we're monitoring the Internet ... everybody's communications, instead of the suspects' communications."
-- "What did we get from bulk collections?... We got nothing."
Edward Snowden: The U.S govt has no idea what documents I provided to journalists because encryption actually works.
— Justin Lear (@CNNJustin) March 10, 2014
-- "[Online surveillance programs] are setting fire to the future of the Internet... The people who are in this room now, you're all the firefighters and we need you to help us fix this."
-- "There's a political response that needs to occur, but there's also a tech response that needs to occur."
Snowden: “If we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government will accept that as a green light to do the same.”
— ▵ Jenna Wortham ▵ (@jennydeluxe) March 10, 2014
Snowden: If you encrypt both your hardware and your network communications, you are "far more hardened than the average citizen" #SXSnowden
— Julianne Pepitone (@julpepitone) March 10, 2014
The crowd was a very welcoming one for the divisive Snowden, who enjoyed frequent applause and praise from the panel hosts, one of whom is his legal advisor. However, it was more of a mixed bag beyond the warm embrace of Austin, where questions and criticism continue about the whistleblower's decision to release confidential U.S. government documents.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) wrote a three-page letter to SXSW organizers, calling for the panel to be scrapped. Rep. Pompeo declared that Snowden's only qualifications for a discussion on online monitoring are "his willingness to steal from his own government," called him a "traitor" and pointed out the irony in his seeking asylum in freedom-squeezing Russia.
The letter was mentioned at the beginning of the session by the panel's moderators, who addressed the point on Russia by claiming that if he were in the U.S. instead, Snowden would "be in a solitary cell subject probably to special administrative measures that would prevent him from being able to... participate in the historic debate that he helped launch."
Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN
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