On a warm day in March, while indie bands were playing and films were competing for the attention of judges at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival. For an hour, Edward Snowden, the United States’ biggest tattle-tale, came through on seven proxies to deliver a PSA via Google Hangout. To take even more precaution, he even included a U.S Constitution background as a nicely placed middle finger to the United States. Despite constant glitches, “A Virtual Conversation with Edward Snowden” was an informative approach to making everyone more aware about how to improve their privacy on the Internet.
The panel was a part of the SXSW Interactive program, which was five days full of presentations about the future of cutting edge technology. It was hosted by Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Privacy Technology Project (ACLU) and Snowden’s attorney. He was accompanied by ACLU Principal Technologist Chris Soghoian, who offered his own explanations on what the problems are with mass surveillance and what needs to be done to fix them. Technologically speaking, the masterpiece was not compelling. It was choppy and full of glitches, not letting the audience get a crisp view of the hunky American hero. Despite technical difficulties, the “whistleblower” spent the hour telling technology junkies, hackers and entrepreneurs about how he had no regrets letting the National Security Agency’s (NSA) skeletons out of their closets. He mentioned, “Would I do this again? Yes, regardless of what happens to me.” It’s a good thing he was hidden behind so many proxies, or they may have just taken him up on his offer.
Of all the people to attend the festival, why on Earth would he turn his attention to the techies? It’s because they are, in Snowden’s opinion, the ones who can relatively take on the NSA. They “are setting fire to the future of the Internet” and they are the “firefighters” who can fix it. Despite barely hearing his voice, his points were a guidebook to build systems to help better privacy. Encryption is the key, according to Snowden. As he was discussing the need for people to invest in encrypted technology, the famous phrase “We the People” seemed to brighten up in the background despite his face being blurry and his mouth not matching up to his voice. It was symbolism at its finest.
The melodrama was then enhanced when Snowden aimed to pull at his audience’s heartstrings by using real-life scenarios to make his point. For example, he mentioned how the government failed to act on numerous warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the brothers accused in the Boston Marathon bombings, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber.” Instead of looking in that evidence, they were too busy hacking Google and Facebook’s back doors for no other reason than they just could. The genuine look on his half-frozen face showed the lack of regret he had for his act of treason. The film, as a whole, was interesting, especially with Snowden playing a Guy Fawkes-type of character.
Overall, Snowden is truly an American hero to our nation’s people. He made people more aware of the NSA playing Big Brother and constantly looking over our shoulders. No one knows where they could strike next. Hell, they could be watching me now while I’m typing all of this praise for someone they consider a traitor. And with everything Snowden said in his hour-long talk, he may have just poured more gasoline in the ever-growing fire.