The Wikileaks founder made a Skype appearance at the interactive technology festival, which is taking place in the city of Austin.
Prior to the Edward Snowden leaks, the NSA’s public relations campaign was non-existent, Assange told the large audience while speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In fact, reporters used to joke that NSA stood for “no such agency.”
Snowden, a former contractor for the agency, last year exposed mass global surveillance programs led by the NSA and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), its British counterpart. The leaks exposed the agencies’ practices of tapping the internet networks, emails, and phone calls of millions of ordinary citizens and political leaders.
Assange criticized the current power balance as “totalitarian dystopia,” by which he meant that “surveillance is total, so that no one exists outside the state.”
Whereas only four years ago the internet was largely an apolitical space, it is has now – through movements such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement – become a tool to motivate and organize political change. This means that those in power will seek to control and surveil such a tool, the Australian activist said.
Partly as a result of the NSA leaks scandal, Brazil has become a powerful advocate of trying to limitmass global surveillance. In April, the country will try to introduce changes to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) regulations. ICANN is responsible for the coordination of the global internet’s systems.
But Assange warned that it will be very difficult to turn back the tide of mass global surveillance, as the surveillance agencies hold all the cards and all the power. Specifically, it would be practically impossible for anyone within the government to meaningfully reduce the powers of the surveillance agencies.
“We know what happens when a government gets serious: someone gets fired, prosecuted, etc. These have not happened to the NSA,” he said.