In the land of the free, it is intriguing to see how the video conferences of the fugitives and whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange created a storm of controversy at SxSW.
While the majority of the conference goers clearly wanted to hear what both had to say, others wanted nothing to do with it. Some bloggers in the blogger lounge choose to watch the testimonials live on their computer in their hotel room, afraid that the American secret service would catch their identity if they would adventure themselves into one of the multiple SxSW video streaming theaters. Others were forbidden by their employers to attend the sessions, or even mention the very existing of it on their social media channels, business as well as private.
Some companies even withdrew from the show altogether when they heard that SxSW interactive director Hugh Forrest refused to take Assagne and Snowden off the festival’s curriculum. “Surveillance and online privacy are big topics of conversation 2014 festival”, Forrest said: “As organizers, SXSW agrees that a healthy debate with regards to the limits of surveillance is vital to the future of the online ecosystem.” The SxSW organizers wanted to broaden the debate by inviting the US secret services, including the NSA on stage, to give them equal air time, but apparently no one took up that offer.
While Snowden and Assange may have stirred up a lot of dust by “calling into the conference”, their message held little to no surprise. Snowden –speaking through 7 proxies via video in front of a projected image of the First Amendment accused the NSA of putting fire on the internet, and turning the internet into a surveillance system, and social weapon. He urged the tech and social community to become humanities firefighters, and to battle for the civilian rights he claims are blatantly violated. He wants to continue to defend the people’s right to privacy and open internet, even if it means he needs to live as a fugitive. “it was worth it” he claimed: “if I could restart everything over, I would be doing it again.”
It got him some video projected lukewarm applause. After his video chat, people went back to their bagels, their Facebook, their applications and their internet connection, and the lousy weather.
Nobody overtook the government, cried wolf, or held spontaneous citizen sit-ins in the convention hall… It looks like people, after all, do not care that much…