Broadcast live from Moscow, Snowden seemed to be in good spirits for a man who has spent the last few years in exile.
Roskilde Festival announced Snowden’s address earlier this month, billing it as a perfect fit for this year’s theme of human rights. Critics have since hailed the move as something that has added depth to this year’s festival by creating a discourse around the subject of privacy.
Formally dressed and courteous in his demeanour, Snowden’s address was hinged on answering several questions pitched by members of the Roskilde Festival public and moderated by the performance art group The Yes Men.
These queries had been raised in relation to several controversial privacy statements that had been deliberately placed around the festival with the intention of promoting the event.
The former CIA employee focused on the issue of privacy, arguing “it is not something to hide but something to protect,” and billing it as “the foundation of all other rights.” In his opening statements, Snowden also questioned governments’ Machiavellian “the ends justifies the means rhetoric,” equating it to the policies of Nazi Germany.
Snowden then went on to address questions on the power dynamics associated with the data gathering policies of the United States, which by and large can extract the private data of any individual without legal consent and simply by “knocking on the doors of Google and Facebook.”
Driving his point home, Snowden questioned the legitimacy of such privacy-violating policies, citing that whilst they have run for a decade, “they have yet to uncover any unknown terrorists. “
As a still and uncomfortable silence fell upon the festival grounds at Roskilde West, Snowden then used the example of the FBI’s spying on Martin Luther King Jr when he was labelled a threat to the political stability of the US back in the 1960’s.
The mood lightened considerably towards the end of the proceedings, as Snowden veered towards discussing solutions to some of the privacy issues that he had addressed previously. He jubilantly stated that it did not matter what one did, as long as one did something, before responding with a refreshing dose of humour to questions from a child in the crowd regarding the length of his jail sentence if convicted of the charges that the US government have filed against him.
The 45-minute address ended in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the partisan crowd in honour of the whistleblower’s 33rd birthday last week, followed by a chorus of “pardon Snowden.”
Roskilde Festival spokeswoman Christina Bilde previously stated that Snowden was a perfect fit for this year’s theme on human rights.
“More than anyone else, Edward Snowden has made us aware just how much human rights are challenged. This goes for a small country like Denmark as well where surveillance both in public and on social media challenges the right to privacy; where refugees make us question the right to free mobility; where the right to freedom of speech is debated heavily,” Bilde said.
“His thoughts and experiences will undoubtedly inspire reflection amongst anyone who cares to listen at the festival,” she added.
Earlier this week, Snowden lost a legal battle in neighbouring Norway when the Oslo District Court said it would not handle a lawsuit he filed in April as a way of seeking a guarantee that he will not be extradited if he visits the Norwegian capital to accept an award later this year.