Assange urges something be done about state power

AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) — Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, told a large crowd at South by Southwest on Saturday a new set of revelations are coming soon, and they will contain a lot of “important material.”

Assange, who addressed the crowd via teleconference from London, refused to give more detail on what the new leaks will be, or a specific time frame on when to expect them.

“I don’t think it is right to give the alleged perpetrator a heads up,” he said.

The session started with questions from The Barbarian Group’s Co-Founder and Chairman Benjamin Palmer, followed by questions submitted through Twitter. The founder of Wikileaks seemed calm and collected as he addressed the crowd, but he says he is not completely fearless. When a Twitter user asked him whether he was afraid he said although he feels fear more keenly than others he will continue with Wikileaks because “courage is not the absence of fear, but seeing fear and proceeding anyway.”

Assange also talked about what he calls an “unprecedented surveillance and theft of personal data by government and corporations” through the internet, particularly in connection with the Obama administration. Stealing this information is detrimental, he said, because knowledge is power. Assange said our online habits are tracked not only for commercial purposes, but in an attempt to predict our actions and depth of our relationships.

However, he said this lateral transfer of information is not all bad.

“20-year-olds today are so much more educated and worldly than 20-year-olds were just 10 years ago,” Assange said.

He explained people are educating and informing themselves about their surroundings at a higher rate than ever before, so individuals are also gaining a lot of power. But, with this power comes responsibility.

“All of us have to do something about it,” Assange said about reeling in the power of the state. “You might think you’re small and insignificant, but you cant hide from the state any more, you wont be spared for being innocuous.”

Assange isn’t the only controversial speaker at SXSW this year. NSA leaker Edward Snowden will also address the crowds through teleconference from Moscow. Their inclusion illustrates how the festival is trying to balance holding on to its independent roots even as it’s flooded by a barrage of corporate sponsors and threatens to grow too big for its hometown.

It’s clear online privacy and government surveillance is on top of the technology set’s mind this year.

Snowden, the former NSA contractor who appears Monday, faces felony charges in the U.S. after revealing the agency’s mass surveillance program by leaking thousands of classified documents to media outlets. He is living under temporary asylum in Russia, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

Snowden is unlikely to talk about the case against him during the session and will focus instead on “how technology enables surveillance and how technology can protect us from surveillance,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. Soghoian will be speaking to Snowden along with Snowden’s legal adviser, the ACLU’s Ben Wizner. Snowden is being represented by the ACLU in the U.S. government’s case against him.

Speaking at South By Southwest — rather than in front of Congress or at a conference of lawyers — gives Snowden a chance to talk to the technology community, “his peers,” Soghoian said.

“The reason the NSAs collected as much information as it did is because of technology,” he said. “Technology got us into this mess and technology will get us out of it.”

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