Edward Snowden’s Video Chat at SXSW Was a Total Disaster

Edward Snowden appeared via Google Chat at a special question-and-answer session at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas today, and to say it didn’t go very well would be a gross understatement.

Chiefly, Snowden was evidently using seven proxies in order to achieve a secure live video feed to the event, which basically rendered nearly everything he said to be totally unintelligible. I take that back. Roughly every fourth word could be understood. The rest was a garble of echo and compression that sounded as if he was delivering his remarks through a series of tube-socks and into the worst stadium sound system in the world. If you happened to have watched it, you’d know I’m not exaggerating by much.

Consequently, the moderators, the ACLU’s Chris Sogohian and Ben Wizner (wow, challenging questioners for Ed), did most of the talking, while Snowden looked on, seated in front of a green-screen projection of, yes, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps Ed should’ve spent more time getting his audio chain to work correctly and less time setting up a green-screen.

By the way, how did he manage to set up a green-screen given his modest resources in a Moscow safe-house? Clearly, the green-screen set-up indicates that he plans to do more of these appearances, which should instantly call to mind Bill Maher’s observation about how every time Snowden opens his mouth something totally batshit comes out. But his audio was so horrible, the batshit stuff barely made it through the tubes — with the exception of Snowden’s remarks about how his leaks have “benefited every society in the world.” Well then, at least all of this attention hasn’t gone to his head.

The big takeaway for me was Chris Sogohian’s repeated observations about how corporations like Google and Yahoo! will profit from Snowden’s revelations by selling stronger, more secure encryption to users. Sogohian even mentioned a price — an extra $5 per customer, because “if you want secure communications you’re gonna have to pay for it.”

Okeedokee. And there it is. Paranoia for profit. Incidentally, this is exactly the First Look business model: frighten people about government surveillance, then sell them encryption software. The fear-mongers in the home security industry ought to be kicking themselves for not thinking of this. Anyone else thinking about Robot Insurance?

One last thing. Wizner, who’s also one of Snowden’s many lawyers, said at the outset that if Snowden had turned himself in, he’d be in a solitary cell instead of speaking to SXSW. I don’t know about you, but the old HBO series “Oz,” along with late night prison programming on MSNBC has convinced me that if, heaven forbid, I ever end up in prison, I would absolutely prefer a single-bunk cell. Put another way, would you rather have Andy DuFresne’s cell from Shawshank Redemption rather than Beecher’s cell from “Oz?”

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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