Before Brian Williams, Snowden spoke at SXSW

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two months before NBC’s Brian Williams interviewed Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker conducted a virtual conversation with an overflow crowd at Austin’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival last March at the Austin Convention Center.

Speaking via a video link connecting Austin and Moscow, Snowden expressed his views about the importance of encryption and protecting the public from government surveillance.

But how did SXSW nab Snowden first?

“As with a lot of things at SXSW it came to us thru a third party, and of course we said yes,” said Hugh Forrest, the director of the SXSW Interactive Festival.

“Snowden knew about SXSW and wanted to get involved. He knew it was a tech audience at SXSW, and whether you believed his appearance was right or wrong, his message at the event was pretty technical, that was just, ‘we need to build better encryption systems,’” said Forrest. “Snowden talking to this audience certainly validates this audience as to their importance.”

Forrest predicted the interview with Williams will be more controversial than his March videoconference.

Though the two did not meet in person, Forrest was impressed with Snowden’s eloquence at expressing his views.

“And I was also impressed that it wasn’t a ‘woe is me’ message, I’m stuck in Moscow,’” Forrest added. “It was a very forward looking at SXSW of ‘you are the geeks who can build better systems. Go out and do that.’”

Forrest says he would welcome Snowden back to SXSW Interactive 2015.

“The one thing we’d change next year if we could have him would to be to have someone from the NSA give their point of view on the story,” Forrest noted.

And how does he believe Snowden’s story will play out?

“I don’t know. I think that on the one hand there is a degree of sympathy particularly in the tech world for what he’s doing. On the other hand if he wants to come back to the United States, I’m sure there’s going to be significant prison time involved. Depending on how the interview goes tonight will influence how much prison time is involved,” Forrest stated.

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