"The NSA is setting fire to the future of the internet, and the people in this room are firefighters," NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told a packed room at SXSW via a virtual conversation presented by the ACLU's Christopher Soghoian and Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
Snowden, who is in Russia where he was granted asylum from U.S. espionage charges, spoke against a projected backdrop of the U.S. Constitution. He was able to address the crowd using a Google Hangout through seven proxy servers -- unfortunately, the spotty connection occasionally made it difficult to follow the discussion.
Soghoian said that no matter your personal feelings about Snowden, "his disclosures have improved internet security." World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee thanked Snowden and said his actions have served the public interest.
Here are some highlights from his talk:
"We're monitoring everybody's communications instead of suspects' communications."
"Companies can surveil you to sell you products, but they can't kill you, like governments can. That's the difference."
"If we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government will accept that as a green light to do the same."
"Every citizen in every country has something to lose. We are all at risk of... unwarranted interference in our private lives."
“I actually think we are seeing a lot of progress. We want secure services.”
Snowden got some laughs when he made a "Harry Potter" reference. "Encryption does work. It's the defense against the dark arts in the digital realm."
Last week, Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) urged SXSW to rescind its invitation to Snowden to speak, saying, "rewarding Mr. Snowden's behavior in this way encourages the very lawlessness he exhibited."