The Reid Report   |  March 10, 2014

Snowden talks NSA and privacy at SXSW

On Monday, Edward Snowden appeared at SXSW via satellite to talk about privacy, the NSA and hacking other countries. NBC’s Sarah  Dallof and Sean Wilentz discuss.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the man who sparked an international manhunt after leaking thousands of nsa secrets appeared in texas today via satellite hook-up. sitting in front of a mock-up of the u.s. constitution edward snowden discussed privacy, the nsa and whether the u.s. should hack into servers in china. even saying his disclosures have helped national security . what hurts national security then, in snowden 's words, the current and former heads of the nsa. their focus on mass surveillance comes with great opportunity costs. for instance, not being able to stop the boston marathon bombers.

>> if we hadn't spent so much on mass surveil lns, if we'd followed the traditional models, we might have caught that.

>> on the topic of russia snowden says there was no way the russians and chinese had access to the information he took.

>> we've had both public and private acknowledgements that they know, at this point, that neither the russian government nor the chinese government , nor any other government, has possession of any of this information. sand that would be easy for them to find out.

>> interestingly, no other mention was made about russia where snowden now lives. not its invasion of crimea, ukraine, not whether that government ingaenlgs in what snowden considers to be intrusive surveillance. before the forum began a gop congressman from kansas wrote a letter to festival organizers complaining about snowden 's conclusion. quote, his goal was not to fix what he saw as wrong, but rather to inflict harm upon the very nation that provided him with the rights he chose not to exercise. he is no more a whistle-blower than alger his was, the rosenbergs, or benedict arnold . sh snowden is both a traitor and common criminal. sarah, you were in the room for snowden 's press conference. how was he received in that room?

>> he was very warmly received. in fact, the audience broke into applause as soon as his face appeared on the screen. at points during the conversation they broke into more applause and cheers, depending on what he was saying. everybody, i would say, was listening with attention, even though the video feed was a little bit jerky, the awudio wasn't quite synced. snowden tasked this tech industry with keeping their -- keeping the industry safe from mass surveillance . he said, quote, the nsa is setting fire to the future of the internet and then he called listening to his speech the firefighters. now, he said, encryption in the future is key and accountability from government agencies gathering information on citizens is important. they need to have that accountability there. he spoke to the audience for about an hour. it took about three months to secure his appearance. but when it was all over organizers say very well worth it to continue this debate of security versus safety. back to you.

>> all right, thank you very much.

>>> and shawn is an author, historian, and contributor to "the new republic" and has written extensively on edward snowden . first, your overall reaction t to the snowden presentation today.

>> well, i have three reactions. disbeli disbelief, double disbelief, and confirmati confirmation. the disbelieve is what you bevan again with. he wassed card snowden in moscow talking about how the important government could be imitated by evil governments elsewhere. at the very moment his protector, vladimir putin , is launching a cyber attack on ukraine with a malware and so forth. it boggled my mind that nothing was said. nothing was going to be said, of course.

>> were you surprised no one in the audience, we just don't know, were you surprised that no one brought up those questions and that irony about russia , his protector?

>> yes, i gather they were prescreened. he is under the protection of the secret service of russia . vladimir putin 's lawyer is his lawyer. he's not about to talk about that. if he were to talk about it -- well, it would be interesting to see if the russians let him talk about it but it's all mirrors within mirrors which is what a lot of this story is about.

>> and he talks about accountability of government agencies . i mean, that is something that within the united states we did litigate the idea of the bush era surveillance which resulted in this 2007 law which now govern what's the nsa is doing. there seemed -- when i watcheded the snowden presentation, there was of no acknowledgement that there was any oversight whatsoever and i think there was a presumption in the room that nsa is actively reading ordinary people 's e-mails every day. that was presumed to be true.

>> that's right. it's completely false. i mean, it's interesting. edward snowden did kick up a debate here. no question about that. and a lot of talk and a lot of investigation. what we found out actually is that the system is working pretty well. that the pfizer courts are doing their job more or less, yes. the nsa polices itself. that there has been not a single instance of official government misbehavior that has been shown here. it's interesting. we assume that everything is bad. there's not a single instance there. it's on the realm of paranoia.

>> he was going beyond sort of talking about his opinions as somebody who was sort of in the i.t. world.

>> right.

>> of the n zrk a and of the cia and talking about policy. he was giving opinions on what the u.s. should be doing regarding its actual national security , saying that we have more to gain by protecting ourselves from chinese encryption -- hacking into our computers than hacking into theirs and these comments about what we should have done, what we should have spent i have a i have the attacks in boston. did edward snowden have any actual national security background?

>> none. he's no more national security expert than he is a constitutional scholar. and indeed, he seems to know a lot about the constitution. he seems to be a supreme court unto himself because he can decide what the constitution says and says what's going on in the unkongs conversatioconstitutional.

>> he was sitting in front of a constitution.

>> either a tea party move or some other move. it was crazy.

>> you think there is a tea party element?

>> there was a point in the whole politics of this and techie world as well but there's a world meets left or right and paranoia about what the government is doing. he is not a liberal. i mean, that should be absolutely clear.

>> yeah. you've written more about edward snowden than anybody else. i recommend people read your writing.