From his hideout in Russia, where he is seeking asylum following his incredible revelations, former CIA employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden addressed the crowd at the SXSW conference.
Despite a letter from a senator in Kansas asking the SXSW conference organisers to uninvite Snowden, he appeared via Google Hangouts through seven different proxies. Snowden's advice to the crowd was clear – encrypt everything.
Snowden conceded that encryption tools are simply too difficult for most people to use. While espousing that we should encrypt hard disks, networks and email he said that the technology community can overcome those challenges. He also suggested using anti-tracking software and tools like TOR.
"South by Southwest and the tech community, the people in the room in Austin, they're the folks who can fix this. There's a political response that needs to occur, but there's also a tech response that needs to occur."
Snowden's answer to the widespread surveillance employed by the NSA is simple. Make it as hard as possible for someone to snoop. He said that the NSA still has no idea what documents he has actually handed over to journalists because of the encryption he employed.
Snowden told the audience of 3000 assembled in the auditorium at the Austin Conference Center in Texas that he decided to address technologists in the first instance rather than policy makers because "they are able to enforce technical standards even when congress hasn’t gotten to the point of creating legislation to protect our rights".
With the US Constitution as his backdrop, Snowden reiterated that he would repeat his actions if he had the same opportunities as he saw his actions as critical for protecting the privacy of ordinary citizens.
"I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale," he said.
Snowden noted that the surveillance activities of the NSA are not just an American issue but that they affect the whole world, such is the breadth and depth of the NSA's actions.
"This is a global issue. They are setting fire to the future of the Internet," he said. "And the people is this room now – you guys are the firefighters".
Towards the end of his hour-long speech, Snowden noted that despite the NSA's monitoring activities, there have been some significant intelligence failures, citing the example of the Boston Marathon bombings.
"We've actually had tremendous intelligence failures because we're monitoring the Internet, instead of suspects' communications," he said.
Snowden took questions from the floor and through Twitter. The first came via email from Tim Berners-Lee who as what he would change about the United States surveillance systems.
"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."
YouTube vide of Snowden's Presentation (note that the audio quality is poor and the video is choppy)