On Friday afternoon, comedian Stephen Colbert closed out last week’s RSA conference -- held inside San Francisco’s Moscone Center -- by, in his keynote speech, blasting the National Security Agency’s spying activity. The liberal funny man, famous for the faux right wing persona he adopts on his show The Colbert Report, chastised the American public for allowing the agency to go as far as it has.
“We all deserve credit for this new surveillance state we live in, because we the people voted for the Patriot Act. We voted for the people who voted for it, and then voted for the people who re-authorized it, then voted for the people who re-reauthorized it,” he said.
But he never missed an opportunity for humor.
“Everything we do and say is now stored in massive data centers the size of three football fields, so that airplane hangar-sized building going up outside your town, for once, it might not be a Wal-Mart,” he said.
Colbert’s voice is the most high profile one to bash the NSA recently, but some state government powers have made moves against the agency. Eight Republican lawmakers introduced a bill last month to cut water and power to the agency’s Maryland headquarters. Maryland has also joined 15 other states to propose legislation limiting the NSA’s power.
The agency’s been cast in an increasingly negative light after former employee Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA documents to the media last year that revealed the agency’s excessive surveillance activity.
But Colbert didn’t spare Snowden either. He called Snowden “practically a war criminal” for exposing classified documents, even though Snowden’s actions helped expose the agency Colbert called out.
He also touched on the controversy surrounding the alleged partnership between the NSA and the very conference at which he spoke: Last year, Reuters claimed that the NSA paid RSA $10 million to partner and develop encryption code, suggesting a link between the world’s premiere security gathering and an organization with a dubious digital spying record.
Colbert, however, said that the Reuters' report had no supporting evidence of the claim and pointed out that other companies have rumored links to the NSA, including Apple and Microsoft, whether they want the connection or not.
But the NSA was the root of all government surveillance evil, in Colbert’s opinion, more than Snowden or any participating company, or the American public’s passivity.
“It’s more than just a passive acquiescence on the part of the American people. Americans have proven time and again that they enjoy handing people with no accountability millions and millions of dollars to set up surveillance equipment and record things that really should be private,” Colbert said.
Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.
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