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Speaking from Russia with “We the people” behind him, Edward Snowden addressed Americans in the U.S. for the first time publicly since leaking National Security Agency documents and exposing its spy programs. He said that he would “absolutely” do that again and pushed for oversight of government surveillance. In addition, he told the tech-savvy audience that they’re the ones that can help put a stop to it.
“I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale,” Snowden told the crowd at the Austin Convention Center during the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. There were 3,000 people in attendance, reports CNN.
Snowden was speaking from Russia, which granted him temporary asylum. Two American Civil Liberties Union lawyers hosted the discussion, which happened thanks to Google Hangouts. They said several routers were used because of security concerns.
USA Today reports that Snowden was asked if he saw any benefit to the mass collection of data. “Data should not be collected without peoples' knowledge or consent,” he said. Earlier he said that everyone benefited from his actions.
In addition to the ACLU lawyers, Snowden did take questions from Twitter. The first actually came from Tim Berners-Lee, who started the World Wide Web 25 years ago. He asked what his suggestions would be for changing the surveillance system.
"We need public oversight ... some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us,” Snowden suggested. “We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we're not informed, we can't consent to these (government) policies.”
Snowden also told the crowd that this is an international issue. The U.S. government isn’t the only one.
“They're setting fire to the global Internet,” he said, reports The Los Angeles Times. “And you guys in the room are the global firefighters.”
SXSW also featured a discussion with Julian Assange, using Skype from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with Snowden to publicize the NSA papers, is also speaking on Monday.