Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. The biggest event today at the South by Southwest conference didn't involve a band but it did involve a rockstar. Well, okay, a rockstar in the digital world anyway. South by Southwest is not just a music festival, it's also an interactive venue to discuss the latest in tech and that's why former NSA contracter Edward Snowden made an appearance today via a video link in Russia. He spoke on a panel about privacy moderated by the American Civil Liberties Union and behind him on the screen: an image of the US Constitution. The World's Steven Davy was there and filled me in on the mood in Austin.
Steven Davy: Marco, I have to say, Snowden took over all of Austin this morning. Snowden was simulcast into one of the largest conference rooms, the exhibition hall, which has bleachers and rows and rows of seats, probably about 1,000 people in that room. He was also simulcast in two other ballrooms about half that size and then in a few breakout rooms so it was very "Snowden" this morning in Austin.
Werman: Yeah for at least a couple thousand people. Age-wise, I know SXSW tends to skew pretty young anyway, but I suppose this didn't disappoint in terms of numbers. Pretty young, the crowd?
Davy: I'd say you're dead on there. It was interesting when it was announced by the ACLU that Snowden was going to be speaking at SXSW, it sort of became the topic that comes up at all the little after parties and the between sessions and "Hey, are you going to 'Snowden'" and "I can't believe Snowden is going to speak at this. I wonder if he's going to say anything interesting." It was the whisper in the hallways. "Snowden, snowden," as you're walking down the hall.
Werman: So you've got these two people from the ACLU on stage doing the interview with Snowden on this video link. What about the people in the room? Do you think they viewed Snowden more as a criminal or as a rockstar?
Davy: I have to say Marco, definitely a rockstar. There were several moments in the talk when people would get into applause and there was even cheers at some points. Certainly it plays to Snowden's hand that these are his type of people, the hackers, the groups of people doing net neutrality advocacy, these are all like-minded individuals.
Werman: Toward the end, to just give a little illustration of what you're talking about, Snowden was asked if he would do it again and he answered "Yes," and then added this:
Edward Snowden: I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution and I saw that the Constitution was violated on massive scales. The interpretation of the 4th amendment had been changed.
Werman: Right so, "The Constitution was violated on a massive scale," says Snowden, and lots of applause. Were there any dissenting voices in the crowd, Steve?
Davy: It's hard to say. In a crowd that large, I'm sure some people were looking with a very critical eye at what Snowden was saying but the ACLU is advocating on behalf of Snowden and I'd say that it was definitely the crowd that would support the type of things that Snowden is advocating with stronger encryption technologies, a stronger look at privacy and a stronger look at oversight. The things that he was saying was that there needs to be oversight and that the public should have some kind of say in what the NSA is doing with the massive collection of surveillance and metadata.
Werman: For you, what was the most surprising exchange or bit of information that you got out of the session with Edward Snowden?
Davy: I have to say, Edward had some very strong rhetoric. He's in a crowd of people that are very concerned about the future of the internet and the way that the internet is going and that it's turning into a controlled universe and the net neutrality crowd is very concerned that it's just a blip in time and that the big internet service providers are closing in and working too closely with the NSA. He's having a very interesting point of view and even when on to suggest that the NSA is setting fire to the future of the internet. Of course, that plays well in a crowd of people building technologies for a free and interesting and exciting and vibrant internet. They're very concerned about that.
Werman: The World's Steven Davy speaking with us from Austin, Texas where he attended the session this morning with Edward Snowden on a video link from Russia. Steven, thanks very much.
Davy: Thanks Marco.