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“If I ever had applause like that, I’d retire immediately,” said Ron Suskind, the moderator of Edward Snowden’s talk with University of Colorado students, as they greeted Snowden with a massive ovation.
That pretty much sums up the response Snowden got throughout his talk. Macky Auditorium was packed for the event. Students, press and various members of the Boulder community filled the seats, and audience participation became a factor later in the night.
Snowden talked on a wide variety of issues. He gave a bit of a background on his life, while also giving details of what made him famous. Accompanying him were short video clips or small newspaper clips that laid out what the NSA was doing. The information he gave somewhat assumed the audience hadn’t seen Citizenfour or read the articles published by the Guardian. Some of the video clips shown can be seen in the documentary or referenced in The Guardian pieces.
“The only way terrorists can win is if we give up a free society for fear of it,” Snowden said.
With the high amount of interest, it was a strict night. Students were asked to turn off their phones when the time to answer questions ended. Members of the press were limited to 10 minutes of photography without a flash.
Suskind first came on stage and talked a little about Snowden and the events surrounding him. The view the moderator gave wasn’t so much a direct recap of the Snowden leaks as it was the implications of the information that was released. This also covered some of the fallout from the 2013 incident.
That’s when the main event started. The video chat commenced to a thunderous applause by the crowd, Suskind joked about retiring and Snowden started his talk.
“We all have a level of incivility or inhumanity or injustice that we accept,” he said.
There was a delay on the video chat all night, causing the audio and the visual to not be synched. Snowden’s mouth betrayed the audio that played to the crowd. Some of his comments were drowned out by the audience. He would continue talking, only to hear the crowd respond a second later.
While Snowden’s points were the focus of the night, the loudest applause came at the hands of a heckler. During the Q&A section, Suskind continued to talk and give facts without providing Snowden a question or adequate window to respond. A member of the audience yelled, “Let him talk!” Everyone else cheered in agreement.
Snowden advocated for privacy. He consistently pointed to that as why he became a whistleblower. The former NSA contractor felt that he couldn’t know about what the NSA was doing and not do anything about it. He reiterated this in his talk at CU.
“There’s a question of, ‘why should I care? I don’t have anything to hide,’” Snowden said. “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about free speech because you’ve got nothing to say.”
There was also a small dive into wider politics. One question was asked on which presidential candidate he liked best and Snowden didn’t respond with a concrete answer. Instead, he answered talking about party politics and why a divide in the middle didn’t appeal to him. This elicited more cheers.
America itself also got a shout out. There were questions about why Snowden lives in Moscow. It wasn’t his original plan, but Snowden was in Russia when the U.S. nullified his passport. Essentially, he was stuck. He joked that he didn’t hate the U.S. and was actually trying to find a way back.
“The NSA is not the world’s biggest villain — China’s doing this. Russia’s doing this. North Korea’s doing this too, except they barely have Internet,” Snowden said to cheers from the crowd. “If you think I’m gonna fight the NSA just to cooperate with the Russian government, you’re out of your mind.”
The last thing Suskind asked Snowden was about the fourth amendment, which protects against illegal search and seizure. Snowden went on to talk about the history of why the amendment was ratified and why it was being violated with the NSA policies.
Suskind ended the event by asking for applause loud enough to reach Snowden in Moscow. Based off the massive soundwaves that bounced around the walls and shook the floor of Macky, he might have heard it.