Snowden appeared on a large screen via video link during his inauguration ceremony in Bute Hall as he addressed students at a Scottish university for the first time since being elected as the institution's rector.
The former National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence officer, who has been given temporary asylum in Russia, thanked students for giving him this "great opportunity" during his speech. In his absence, his ceremonial robes were placed over the back of the empty chair he would have sat in during the inauguration.
Snowden said: "I would like to thank everyone at the University. To the student body, to the SRC, to everyone who participated in the elections.
"I would say it is a great honour to be part of this today.
"We have to remember that human rights are not granted by governments but are inherent to our nature.
"We have to abide by the principles that we cannot merely believe in something, you have to speak out.
"It is these principles that will guide me as rector."
Earlier this year, Snowden said he was "humbled and honoured" after Glasgow University students voted overwhelmingly for him to serve as their rector for the next three years.
"In a world where so many of our developing thoughts and queries and plans must be entrusted to the open internet, mass surveillance is not simply a matter of privacy, but of academic freedom and human liberty," he said.
He defeated the former champion cyclist Graeme Obree, the author Alan Bissett and the Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, who also stood for the post.
Snowden fled America, via Hong Kong, in May last year having leaked evidence of ¬extensive internet and phone surveillance by US intelligence.
The leaked documents uncovered the existence of numerous global surveillance programs, many of them run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and other governments.
Despite the overwhelming support for him, some university groups campaigned for a rector who would be able to work on campus.
A page on the social networking site Facebook run by university students dedicated to his campaign reflected this view with one posted comment stating: "So he's going to actually say something, and especially to us? Hope he's taken some time to understand the university and its students to be able to say more than "thanks"."
However, others defended Snowden with another post commenting: "Mr Snowden's very election itself is testament to the fact that Glasgow University students need not have someone speak for them, but rather that they can unite and offer a platform to someone whose voice may otherwise not be heard, yet should."
To ensure as many students as possible are able to hear the address, the ceremony will be filmed and screened later in the day on campus.