Snowden Speaks to Honolulu Conference

Edward Snowden at ACLU Hawaii Event on Olelo

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength,” Vincent Van Gogh is said to have said, and on this Valentine’s Day, there was a special gathering for people who love the First Amendment.

The Davis Levin First Amendment Conference was held today, organized by the ACLU of Hawaii. The featured speaker was former security contractor and Honolulu resident Edward Snowden (now either a government whistleblower or traitor, in exile in Russia). After a screening of the documentary film “CITIZENFOUR,” Snowden (and his attorney) spoke about government surveillance and privacy and took questions from the audience.

I wasn’t able to attend, and the event turned out to be sold out and standing room only. (Snowden got a standing ovation, and commented that the applause made his computer speakers rattle.) Fortunately, in addition to a live broadcast of the session on ‘Ōlelo attendees were posting highlights to Twitter with the #DLFAC2015 hashtag from Snowden’s remarks, and the Q&A that followed.

Snowden spoke about where things were before he made the disclosures:

I remember being in Hawaii and being in the water and being on the beach and feeling like I was by myself. I do regret I took so long to stand up. The longer I waited to come forward, the more these programs became entrenched.

He suggested several questions that people should ask:

What kind of society do we want to have? What rights matter? How do we balance the desires of government with the needs of the public? How can we say we are a nation of law when we don’t question some of our most powerful people?

Snowden spoke about balancing government laws and individual rights:

Law is like medicine. If you have too much, it could be fatal. We cannot allow secret laws or secret interpretations of the law. Casual deceptions are corrosive to democracy. If we don’t know when we are being deceived, then we can’t have a participatory democratic government. Security and protection of rights go together.

He also talked about facing the consequences of his actions, which he said have not led to the harm for any individual:

If people didn’t break the law, slavery would still be in place. There is a civil value to law breaking… one of the most important means of progress. I don’t think I should be free from punishment. I have volunteered to go to prison… [but] there’s no fair trial on offer right now.

And about the landscape for everyday Americans:

People shouldn’t have to become digital insurgents to browse freely. Support companies that support individual rights, digital security. Google tells us that are now encrypting, can we trust them?

Snowden’s calls to action:

We’ve moved these programs from secret courts to open courts. Pull truth out of the darkness and into the light. Think about the kind of society you want to live in then stand up for it.  No matter how many governments there are, we can say that there are more of us than them. We can win.

Snowden also referenced some news articles during his remarks:

Thanks to the following diligent Twitter users (among many) for reporting on the event: ACLU of Hawaii (@acluhawaii), Civil Beat (@civilbeat), Ka Leo O Hawaii (@kaleoohawaii), HPR’s Molly Solomon (@solomonout), Powell Berger (@powellberger), and Pirate Party Pacific (@kealohadudoit) with Esme Kealoha-Dudoit (@mauicountycsr).

There was more, and fortunately, you can browse the #DLFAC2015 hashtag to see the Twitter posts and subsequent commentary. Gene Park of Civil Beat also curated some of the best posts on Storify.

And if you want to watch the session in its entirety, ‘Ōlelo 54 will re-broadcast it on the following dates and times:

  • Sunday, Feb. 16, 2015 at 6 p.m.
  • Friday, Feb. 20, 2015 at 10:30 a.m.
  • Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015 at 9:00 p.m.
  • Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

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