Colbert Defies Protesters, Speaks at RSA Conference

Saturday, 01 Mar 2014 09:06 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert isn't afraid of the National Security Agency reading his emails or of speaking at the annual RSA Conference on cryptography, for that matter..

Many security speakers dropped out of the annual event after Reuters reported in December that RSA, a major computer and security company based in Bedford, Mass., had signed a $10 million contract with the NSA to build a back door into encryption software.

But Colbert, Friday night's keynote speaker at the event, ignored requests from privacy activists to back out, and brought his signature humor to the stage.

Story continues below video.

"I don't necessarily want people reading my emails but I'm not a spy, I don't run a crime syndicate," Colbert said. "I've got things I don't want people to know but I didn't really go running for cover for a new way to encrypt."

Colbert's reaction was being watched carefully, as RSA typically closes out its conferences with famous speakers, who have included Condoleezza Rice, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair. But this year's conference was marked by protests, including some near the San Francisco venue.

Colbert quickly defended RSA and his decision to speak even after many had called for him to drop out.

"Now a lot of people, maybe some in this room, were upset to learn I'd be speaking here today. Many of you see me as a champion of privacy," said Colbert. "Which I know because I read your emails . . . Normally I’m asked not to be somewhere only after I’ve spoken.”

Colbert said he believes RSA is in the clear when it comes to its dealings with the NSA, and said "when it comes to companies playing footsie with the NSA" there is not a lot of room under the table for "more footsies" since major companies like Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Verizon have been linked to the NSA as well.

He joked that he'd signed a contract and "my conference was clear, as long as the check was clear," even though he claimed he was actually paid in bitcoins.

But Colbert wasn't as easy on the NSA or accused leaker Edward Snowden, who he called "practically a war criminal" for taking the information to China and Russia.

"Was Mordor not accepting asylum requests?" he joked.

Colbert also took time to promote his fictional security startup, "CloudFog," which he described as "part cloud, part fog, all security."

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