Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

National news

March 8, 2014

Snowden, Assange top bill at Texas tech gathering

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Surveillance. Online privacy. Robots. Food processing. Wearable computers. To get a sense of what's on the minds of the tech industry's thinkers, leaders and tinkerers, it's a good idea to head to Austin, Texas, rather than Silicon Valley this time of the year.

More than 30,000 people descend on this eccentric city for the South By Southwest Interactive Festival each March. This year, NSA leaker Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder and secret spiller Julian Assange are topping the bill, alongside Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Anne Wojcicki, CEO of genetics testing company 23andMe.

Snowden and Assange won't be making the trip to Texas, however. They'll appear on live video, since both are living as fugitives, in Moscow and the Ecuadorian embassy in London, respectively. 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.

"We have always said that South By Southwest is a very big tent and we have all different types of people," said Hugh Forrest, director of the interactive festival. "This is a feature and not a flaw."

Still, it's clear that 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.

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