Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) recently penned an open letter to the organizers of SXSW, who plan to have Edward Snowden speak via webcast Monday as part of a panel regarding surveillance. In this letter, Pompeo "strongly urge(s)" SXSW to retract its invitation to Snowden:
I am deeply troubled to learn that you have invited Edward Snowden to address SXSW on privacy, surveillance, and online monitoring in the United States. [...]Pompeo's letter even includes this gem of a sentence:
Mr. Snowden’s appearance would stamp the imprimatur of your fine organization on a man who ill deserves such accolades . . . . I strongly urge you to withdraw this invitation.
Certainly an organization of your caliber can attract experts on these topics with knowledge superior to a man who was hired as a systems administrator and whose only apparent qualification is his willingness to steal from his own government and then flee to that beacon of First Amendment freedoms, the Russia of Vladimir Putin.Pompeo's reference to the First Amendment is ironically amusing, considering that he presented this letter on official Congressional letterhead. He was not writing as a private citizen but rather in his official capacity as an elected representative.
The First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.SXSW has not been restrained by law against having Snowden as a guest speaker, nor has it been threatened with any sort of sanctions. However, the fact remains that Pompeo, by using the weight of his office to "request" that SXSW deny Snowden a venue, has created what could be described as a chilling effect.
Pompeo may have attempted to insulate himself from such criticisms, stating, "The ACLU, which is moderating this panel, would surely concede that freedom of expression for Mr. Snowden has declined since he departed American soil." Who knew that every time a person leaves the country he or she relinquishes all Constitutional rights?
For its part, SXSW does not seem inclined to acquiesce to Pompeo's
demands urgent suggestion.