Colbert Speaks at Controversial Security Conference Fans Wanted Him to Boycott

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 3 2014 2:58 PM

Colbert Speaks at Controversial Security Conference Fans Wanted Him to Boycott

colbert
Colbert spoke at RSA's security conference even though some of his fans asked him not to because RSA has cooperated with the NSA.

Photo from CIO.

Stephen Colbert's satire usually springs forth from his desk at Comedy Central. But he was on location for the RSA conference last week even though some of his fans had asked him to boycott. It seemed like the makings of some solid drama.

But Colbert defused the situation by using his right-wing persona to poke fun at cryptographers, the NSA, and RSA itself. Last year RSA was accused of being paid $10 million by the NSA to intentionally weaken one of its encryption algorithms. And Colbert brought it up. He said, “The elephant in the room is that I was asked not to come speak here. That came as something of a shock to me. Normally I'm asked not to be somewhere only after I've spoken.”

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In the speech Colbert said that he decided not to boycott RSA Conference because of the money he had been promised in his contract for speaking. He said, “My conscience was clear, as long as the check clears. Well, it’s not actually a check. They gave me a bitcoin voucher from Mt. Gox and I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”

Colbert joked about an encrypted cloud service he had started called Cloud Fog and said that his company uses a 20-sided die as its random number generator. And then he returned to the controversy over his decision to attend the conference, saying, “A lot of people, maybe some in this room, were upset to learn that I'd be speaking here today. Many of you see me as a champion of privacy. Which I know because I read your emails ... As a freedom lover I do not engage in boycotts.”

Other than some ribbing, the speech stayed pretty safe in terms of actually making assertions about privacy expectations, or coming down against the NSA or RSA. Mainly Colbert just made it clear that something strange has been going on, and that everyone should feel uncomfortable about how undefined the topic of privacy rights is right now. And here and there Colbert gave some choice advice to audience members or anyone hearing his speech. “Remember the first rule of RSA conference: While you're quoting Fight Club someone is hacking you.”

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

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