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March 5th, 2014
05:34 AM ET

Fugitive and Whistleblower Edward Snowden to Speak from Russia at SXSW

Even though he can't set foot in the United States for fear of arrest, fugitive National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has joined the speakers' roster at this year's South by Southwest Interactive Festival.

Snowden, who fled the United States in June with thousands of top-secret documents, will appear via teleconference Monday from Russia for a discussion about how the tech community must defend itself against mass surveillance.

Snowden will chat with Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

"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," an SXSW news release says.

Audience members will be allowed to ask questions, andThe Texas Tribune, a nonprofit media organization, intends to livestream the session.

Josh Baer, a tech entrepreneur who has been attending the festival for more than 15 years, said he is excited to hear what Snowden has to say.

"The news and the government each have so many different perspectives," Baer said. "It's always refreshing to get it straight from the source."

Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, said it took more than three months to secure Snowden's participation and called it an essential part of this year's programming.

"The growth of social media has fueled so much of the growth of the online ecosystem, but the revelations from the summer of 2013 expose the costs and downsides of this growth," he said.

Forrest added that Snowden "wants to talk to a tech-focused audience about the importance of building the next generation of online tools that protect user privacy."

Privacy and government surveillance is a subplot of SXSW Interactive's programming this year, with other slated speakers to include journalist and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald as well as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Assange and Greenwald helped Snowden disseminate stolen NSA documents, and both will also appear via teleconference.

Greenwald moved to Rio de Janeiro, the hometown of his domestic partner, David Miranda, and Assange was granted diplomatic asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Sweden sought to question him in connection with a sexual assault investigation.

Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor who fled the United States after leaking details of the American government's spy programs, was granted temporary asylum in Russia last year.

He faces felony charges of espionage and theft of government property in the United States, and has said he won't return until the U.S. changes its whistleblower-protection laws.

"Surveillance and online privacy look to be one of the biggest topics of conversation at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival," a festival statement says. "As organizers, SXSW agrees that a healthy debate with regards to the limits of surveillance is vital to the future of the online ecosystem."

SXSW annually hosts film, music and interactive festivals, drawing tens of thousands of attendees to Austin. This year's 10-day affair begins Friday.

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