Why the Wikileaks attack on the US is bad news for free speech

Wikileaks was once a reputable website which published things that the powerful and corrupt — especially third-world states and nastier corporations — would rather we did not see.  At that time I believe it was run by a group of people, some of them Chinese dissidents.  I don’t know who this Julian Assange might be, but I believe he took over the site some time ago.

The first warning that something was wrong was when Wikileaks published the membership list of the British National Party.  This small political party is the UK party opposed to immigration.  It has been targeted for violence, much of it evidently with the concurrence of the establishment and the police, and is currently being forced out of existence by an abuse of the legal process.  Far from being powerful, its members have to take their lives and livelihoods in their hands in order to belong.  And Wikileaks denounced them, Vichy-style, to the powerful, the police, and the media.  It matters nothing here what the BNP is; but to betray the abused to the abuser, to hand over those afraid to speak to those who would punish them for so doing, this was a betrayal of the whole purpose of the site, which was to deal with attempts to suppress free speech by the powerful. 

Now we have the current scandal.  I have not been able to understand how any of us benefit by the betrayal of Afghans who have assisted our forces to the Taliban.  Making it difficult for the US to conduct diplomacy, forcing it to use force rather than talking … who benefits?  Only those corrupt and hateful regimes which hate us all too.

But Assange has done the world a far greater injury, one that will last far longer than this five days sensation.   For he has found a way to force the liberal democracies to create the means to control what appears on the internet.  He has made it a matter of national security, he has made it essential for governments to have to power to take down websites on little or no notice, and for them to have the power to bring to justice those who post on them.  The Chinese will love it!  So will the big corporations, who whisper in the ears of legislators.

Yesterday I read that domain name hosting companies were refusing to point to the Wikileaks IP address.  Today I read that Paypal has withdrawn it’s support for donations to Wikileaks.  Well and good… except that here is another precedent.  For who believes that any of this did not happen with state pressure?

No-one, in London or Washington, however inclined to freedom of speech, will be able to deny any demands that national security requires this site to be silenced, whatever it takes.  It won’t be politically possible.  And once the deed has happened, what then? 

What happens then, is that the security services on both sides of the Atlantic have a brand-new method of censorship.  And it will be used.  It will be developed.  Policies will be created.  Laws will be passed.  A whole apparatus of control will come into existence.  How can it not, unless the US is run by people heedless of their own convenience? 

Generations to come will not remember the name of Julian Assange.  But he has done more than anyone to make the internet a place where the free speech that we have all relied on will become a memory, and to create corporate control of the internet. 

It is, indeed, a  bitter Christmas present for the world. 


13 thoughts on “Why the Wikileaks attack on the US is bad news for free speech

  1. This whole business of wikileaks is puzzling – I sometimes think it is being leaked in agreement with the security services in order to reveal things that are not revealed publically. The recent ones focused more or less on the Middle East, and what king so or king sa, has said or begged the Americans to do. It seems that the objective was to advance the cause of war against Iran (or may be to divide the Middle East even more). Now, I am not against stopping the Iranians from obtaining nuclear power, but I always thought the mechanism to do that was more dignified than leaking documents. I may be wrong, but the whole espionage thing, and secretive culture of diplomacy, makes everyone inclined to suspect just about everything in politics!

  2. Judith, it was always inevitable that the greedy and powerful would seek to control the web. There have been several attempts to do so. But such control is so obviously against the interests of so many people, including many influential people, that there is quite a lobby able to work against this. I blame Assange for precipitating this issue again for a bit of cheap political hate-peddling, and doing so in such a way as to make any reasonable person unable to oppose the measures taken to shut him down. He has thereby spiked the guns of our friends and handed every advantage to our foes. Once the mechanism exists, it exists.

    Dioscorus, I agree that we don’t know what is going on, and I also wonder what the true story is. You notice that the UK government, supposedly a victim, is in no hurry to arrest Assange?

  3. Fact: Secrets are hard to keep. Cork out of the bottle. post-it-all 1-to:world. Yous school or corporate emails? Problem ? Just as much the printed book once was. Main question: what’s next: E-Power to the people. Maybe it is good thing, because together we can control what no government can (ie. the global society we need to survive) Technology is a thread, it always was.. it always was unstoppable. However we NEED it to survive. So live with this and let’s discuss it

  4. wed, secrets are extremely easy to keep — in an unfree society. You seem to have missed the point — that governments now have an unstoppable excuse to make our society much, much less free.

  5. Roger, the fight against Internet censorship was going to come anyway. Governments have been inching towards it for years and can only be stopped by a vigilant e-public. People in power simply cannot be trusted. Think of the UK terrorism act (sworn by Blair/Brown to be aimed solely at terrorists) which was used for the first time against Iceland when their banks failed and the Icelanders refused to pay UK losses.
    In your condemnation of Wikileaks, are you taking into account that they did not hack or leak the documents, but only published them? I see no essential difference (other than scale) with the Pentagon Papers — do you condemn the NY Times, too? As for the secrecy of diplomacy, well, yes and no. What ever happened to Woodrow Wilson’s ‘open agreements openly arrived at’? That is a rhetorical question and no marks will be given for answering it 🙂

  6. The fight was certainly going to come. I don’t think defence of treachery is the basis on which we wanted to fight it. I can see that you don’t understand why this action was wrong and stupid — this is not the place to discuss that, certainly. But unless you realise that it was, you won’t understand why politically we’re screwed.

  7. Whose treachery, Roger? Surely the person who hacked/leaked the documents, not the organization (which, by the way, owes no loyalty to the USA) that published it. It’s a difficult issue. I’ve read good arguments on both sides but I think, in the end, publish-and-be-damned is probably better than self-censorship. I could be wrong….

  8. The key point here is that, by doing something that no government can ignore or should ignore (unless it has a death wish), Assange has ensured that governments will find ways to silence him, whatever it takes. Having found ways to do so, those ways will remain on file. They will be used again, and again.

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