At SXSW, Privacy Steps Into the Spotlight

Where else can you find NSA leaker Edward Snowden, talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, rock legend Neil Young, Chelsea Clinton and genetics expert Anne Wojcicki in one place?

It's the 27th annual South by Southwest festival, which gets underway Friday in Austin.

SXSW kicks off with the tech portion, targeting emerging start-ups and hard-to-get-into sessions that feature panelists pondering the latest tech trends. This year finds a huge focus on privacy and government snooping.

Most attention is headed toward Monday at 11 a.m. CT, when Snowden addresses the crowd via video-conference, in his first public chat since fleeing for asylum in Russia. He will appear via satellite, in a session moderated by the American Civil Liberties Union.

SXSW decided to shine a light on privacy and snooping because "this issue is very important to the digital creatives who come to the show," says Hugh Forrest, director of interactive for SXSW. "It needs debate, and dramatically impacts what apps will be built and how they work."

Snowden's session will be simulcast on the Texas Tribune Web site and recorded for later viewing by the ACLU, as well.

Keeping the focus on privacy, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who is living in London at the Ecuadorian embassy, will also appear via satellite, on Saturday.

Beyond security, SXSW is where Twitter and Foursquare first took off, so there's been lots of focus on start-ups. But in the past few years, no break-out start-ups have emerged, says Peter Pham, co-founder of tech incubator Science. "It's hard to stand out. I don't know that launching a product at (SXSW) is going to be successful."

That said, he's still going, because of the people he gets to meet. "Everybody seems to descend on Austin. ... It's a great opportunity to get to know people."

There are parties galore, and those hard-to-get-into panels. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson...

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