Edward Snowden to speak at SXSW event

Edward Snowden

Credit: Getty Images

In this handout photo provided by The Guardian, Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong. (Photo by The Guardian via Getty Images)

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by MARJORIE OWENS / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 8:14 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 5 at 9:53 AM

AUSTIN — Edward Snowden will talk before an audience for the first time since garnering international attention after he disclosed classified documents on global surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The former Central Intelligence Agency employee and NSA contractor will join SXSW Interactive via live video to discuss surveillance and online privacy at 11 a.m. on March 10. According to the SXSW announcement, Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist and senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, will also join the discussion.

"The conversation will be focused on the impact of the NSA's spying efforts on the technology community, and the ways in which technology can help to protect us from mass surveillance," read the announcement from SXSW. "Hear directly from Snowden about his beliefs on what the tech community can and must do to secure the private data of the billions of people who rely on the tools and services that we build."

The Texas Tribune will also provide a live stream of "A Virtual Conversation with Edward Snowden" fro those that can't make it to the discussion, which will take place on the first floor in Exhibit Hall 5 of the Austin Convention Center. It will also later be available to stream on the ACLU website.

In June of 2013, through the release of classified documents, Snowden exposed the NSA's collection of calling records under secret court orders.

The Snowden documents also revealed NSA programs that scoop up data from the nation's Internet companies and tap into Google and Yahoo's data-center communications overseas.

The tech giants lashed out when news broke that their customers' data was being tapped, escalating pressure on President Barack Obama to curb the NSA programs. And on Jan. 27, the government announced it will allow five companies — Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Facebook Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. — to share more information with the public about how often they receive orders to assist national security investigations.

As charges of espionage loomed over Snowden's head, he fled the United States to seek asylum in Russia.

In a Twitter conversation with CNN's Jake Tapper, Snowden expressed a desire to return back to the United States but said he wouldn't anytime soon due to the fear he wouldn't receive a fair trial. Snowden said his unease was spurred by the Espionage Act, which was created nearly 100 years ago, since it "forbids a public interest defense."

The documents released by Snowden sparked a debate that continues.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has been among those to speak out against government surveillance programs and has backed protests such as "The Day We Fight Back."

"Unwarranted mass collection of Americans data does not make us safer and can impair our Constitutional rights," Lofgren said. "We can be safe while still complying with the Constitution of the United States."

However, others in the intelligence community, such as former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker, argue such surveillance isn't an abuse of the Constitution and rather a necessary tool to protect Americans.

In January, President Barack Obama called for government surveillance changes. However, he also spoke out against Snowden's actions.

“Our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets," he said. "If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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