The theme of Internet surveillance and security carried into South By Southwest Interactive Saturday with Julian Assange Skyping into the festival remotely from his current home in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy.
The WikiLeaks founder said living as a political refugee inside the embassy since June 2012 has been “a bit like prison” since he is confined indoors and under constant police surveillance.
“I am able to exist in a situation which is every national security reporter’s dream, which is a land without police," Assange said. "It is a no man's land, as far as coercion is concerned."
Assange said people have moved all factors of their lives onto the Internet in today’s digital age, and the National Security Agency has been “sucking” all of that personal information up. The NSA’s ability to store information has been doubling every 18 months, he said.
“The ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost here, and arguably we’ll be there in a few years,” Assange said.
When fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA surfaced, United States citizens were able to see how aggressive the response of its government would be.
The NSA’s response to media reports was to pretend it did not exist. Once the reportage and evidence on the NSA reached a certain level it could no longer be ignored.
“To some degree these people who’ve been trying for years to call attention to this phenomenon of state overreach, we got lucky because we ended up with an opponent that didn’t really have a PR strategy except to not exist at all," Assange said.
He said the penetration of the Internet by the NSA is a penetration of the civilian society, and there has been a “militarization” of civilian space. Assange questioned the power of the U.S. government and Obama administration.
When the government is serious, someone is fired, forced to resign, prosecuted or budgets or cut, Assange said. None of those things have happened in the past eight months since the Snowden revelations.
“Who really wears the pants? … Is it the intelligence agencies, or is it the (Obama) administration?” Assange asked.
We are now all part of “the state,” like it or not, he said, and we have no choice but to attempt to manage the behavior of the state we have been forced to be a part of.
“One of the best ways to achieve justice is expose injustice,” Assange said. “You create a general deterrent for anyone believing they can construct an unjust plan in a serious manner that affects people.”
On the topic of exposing injustice, Assange said there is now an exodus of NSA reporters, who are “a new type of refugee” because they could be arrested at any moment in the United States. Germany and Brazil are nuclei of national security reportage because of the journalists who have fled there, he said.
Assange praised journalist Glenn Greenwald, who became widely known after writing a series of reports detailing global surveillance programs based on classified documents disclosed by Snowden.
“I find it hard to imagine any reporter in the U.S. could have done better or been braver than Glenn Greenwald,” Assange said.
In response to a question from the audience, Assange confirmed that new leaks are coming, but would not give specifics so institutions would not have time “to prepare spin."
Assange touched on future targets, saying before information like Snowden’s NSA revelations leaked, among other events, people were going about their business in what they thought was the world. “But we weren’t living in the world: we were living in some fictitious representation of what we thought was the world,” he said.
“We are walking around constantly in this fog where we can’t even see the ground,” Assange said. “We think we can see the ground, but we’re wrong. And every so often a clearing in the fog happens when there is one of these grand disclosures. And we see the ground, and we are surprised.”