There’s nothing like a good public scandal to polarise opinion. And any scandal that involves international politics is right up there. I’m talking, of course, about Wikileaks and its erstwhile founder, Julian Assange who is currently in prison for, apparently, sleeping with the wrong girl. At least, that’s what the story appears to be about. But it also appears to be about political arm-twisting, loss of face, political laziness, and a sudden, burning need to not only shut the gate after the horse has bolted, but to go out, chop down the tree, saw the wood, throw on some hinges and build the gate from scratch.
There are a lot of things about this whole situation that intrigue me. For a start, Assange is in jail because he gave himself up of his own free will. But he was refused bail because he was a flight risk and might not turn up to court for his next appearance. I don’t want to be sarcastic – at least, not yet – but he did give himself up. Why would he do that if he had no intention of coming back? Surely it just would have been easier to not give himself up in the first place.
Then there are the declarations that by releasing these cables, he is breaking the law. This is a tricky one because I’m sure that if we really looked hard, we might find a couple of countries in which his actions are illegal – however, USA, Australia, Britain, Europe and most of Asia are none of those countries. In the strict terms of the law, publishing these cables is not illegal.
Of course, the American government doesn’t really care that it isn’t illegal – they just want it to stop, no matter what it takes. So they’ll probably make up a law and then make it retrospective – like they did with the Guantanamo Bay captives. This is a highly immoral direction to take and I’m hoping that Obama will decide against it in the end.
But they’ll still do their best to stop Assange, even if it means charging him with espionage for publishing the cables. But personally – not being a lawyer or anything – I’m not sure how that works. He didn’t steal the information, he just put it on his website. He vowed that he wouldn’t publish anything that would risk people’s lives, and so far that seems to be the case.
But what about all the others? All the other newspapers around the world that are publishing and printing the cables as they appear on the Wikileaks site. Are their editors going to get arrested and put on trial for espionage as well? After all, they’ve done exactly the same thing as Julian Assange. Or is it one rule for him and another for employees of Rupert Murdoch?
And what about the cyber attacks? Wikileaks has been under cyber attack for months, ramped up recently as these cables were gradually released. Then the global and political conspiracy to stop him widened as Visa and Mastercard refused to process donations, as Amazon cancelled his hosting account, as a Swiss Bank closed his account.
Seriously – have you ever heard of a Swiss banker closing an account for any criminal, psychpath or terrorist? No. Just this one man who published the world’s secrets.
Now Wikileaks supporters have attacked their sites and those of the Swedish government who are trying to arrest Assange on rape charges. While the American government will not admit – nor deny – that they are behind the cyber attacks on Wikileaks, a 16-year-old boy has admitted he’s behind one of the cyber attacks on Visa and Mastercard. So why is it okay for the government to use these weapons but not ordinary citizens? Why does Wikileaks have to put up with being attacked, but not be allowed to defend itself?
And of course, it’s hard to really get behind Assange because of those rape charges. It’s hard to really think of him as a Ned Kelly of our age because nobody likes a man who is guilty of sexual assault, no matter who he is (unless you’re a sportsman, in which case, everybody but the victim can turn a blind eye). His guilt hasn’t yet been tested in a court of law, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from condemning him anyway.
After an exhaustive investigation, the British Daily Mail have put together a largely objective timeline for the events leading up to Assange’s arrest – and they make for very interesting reading. If this investigation is correct, Assange is definitely guilty of having sex without a condom, and perhaps two-timing a woman who had offered him a couch to sleep on. Unwise actions yes, and in the case of the condom, patently stupid – but none of his actions would have even been commented upon if he were say, in a rock band. There is no doubt that the case has snowballed in such a way simply because it involves Julian Assange.
Governments wish to stop Wikileaks – but they can’t. Even if they successfully closed down the sites (impossible, given there are at least 350 clones), another site would simply pop up in its place. So far the contents of the cables has been no more than embarassing. No governments have fallen, no wars have been declared. But some people, such as America’s National Idiot, Sarah Palin, devoted Christian that she is, have demanded he be assassinated.
And all for telling the truth. I remember my mother telling me as a child that I should always tell the truth.
Make no mistake – this is a battle royal, quite possibly one of the most important events of the 21st century. This is where the supporters of free speech and a completely free internet do battle with the agents of governments and corporations. This is where the battle lines are being drawn, between those who wish to control, and those who have the tools to make their voices heard regardless. Hackers who are battling against Visa and Mastercard are doing so from their own living rooms, with virtually no resources other than their fingers and their passion for liberty.
At the same time, governments have, over the last 20 years, refused to do anything to protect the privacy of those who use the internet, repeatedly manipulating trolled data as a weapon, allowing massive corporations to indulge in social engineering and targeted advertising. Privacy, they have told us repeatedly, is dead. So why is it okay for our secrets to be made public and for corporations to make money from them, but secrets of the governments who make these rules must be kept secret? These are the questions now echoing around the world.
Love him or hate him, Julian Assange and Wikileaks have changed the world forever. Laws will change, the landscape will shift and evolve – and all, hopefully, without a drop of blood being spilled.
This is revolution in the new millennium.