NSA leaker Edward Snowden called for public oversight of U.S. intelligence programs during a web-streamed speech at SXSW Interactive, one of the most anticipated segments of the technology conference. Snowden, appearing remotely from Russia where he remains in exile, urged attendees to take more control over how the various intelligence agencies interact with citizens. The speech marked the first time Snowden has addressed U.S. citizens directly since going into exile.
"South by Southwest and the tech community, the people in the room in Austin, they're the folks who can fix this," Snowden said. "We need public oversight, some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us. We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we're not informed, we can't consent to these policies."
When asked by an attendee if he had any regrets about his decision to leak classified NSA documents, Snowden replied that he would "absolutely" do it again. "Regardless of what happens to me, this is something that we had the right to do," he said, a copy of the U.S. Constitution serving as his backdrop. "I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale."
While the speech drew generally positive responses from the crowd, it had been preceded by criticism and controversy, with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) urging the conference in an open letter to cancel the event, calling Snowden a traitor and common criminal.
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Snowden's speech was viewed the 3,000 conference attendees filling the main auditorium at the Austin Convention Center. Two overflow rooms had been set up by the conference, with the speech also streamed live by the Texas Tribune. Video of the event in full is available at the ACLU's Web site.