Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg Converse at HopeX
This weekend Kevin Gosztola and I attended the HopeX (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference in New York.
We went in large part because Daniel Ellsberg, Jessalyn Raddack, Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden were all speaking at the event. But I have to give the conference high marks overall; the panels and talks were extremely well coordinated and really interesting. And surprisingly political.
The crowd on hand to see Snowden and Ellsberg was insane, to put it mildly. The conference had taken over the entire 18th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania for the event, which took place in the main hall and was broadcast via closed circuit to all the other rooms.
The 18th floor was closed to further traffic due to overcrowding about an hour before the event began, and re-directed to the 6th floor. The 6th floor also quickly filled up, and the first floor and mezzanine became the overflow rooms. By the time the event actually started there were people spilling out onto the street trying to see what was happening.
The actual conversation between Snowden and Ellsberg was fascinating. The two had never spoken publicly before, although Ellsberg told me they had a 4 hour private conversation last week. Ellsberg gave Snowden credit for giving him “the best pubilcity I’ve had in 20 years” from people who used to want him in jail. He also managed to drop two f-bombs, one for people like John Kerry who said Snowden was no Daniel Ellsberg (“bullshit”); the other for Hillary Clinton who said that if Snowden came back to the US he’d be able to tell his story publicly in court (also “bullshit”).
A large percentage of the presentations at HopeX discussed the urgent need for encryption security that is easy to use, and one panelist said that it was an “epic fail” on the part of the tech community that a year had passed since the Snowden revelations and no reliable alternatives have been developed to clunky programs like GPG.
The call to arms really came from Snowden himself, however, who said during his talk that the people in this room had the ability to create technology which could make it safer for whistleblowers to come forward (while acknowledging that it will never be possible to be 100% safe). He said this was the task that he hoped to devote the rest of his life to.
He also expressed his belief that when governments discover their actions will become public it will “change the world.”