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 Today I read that Paypal has withdrawn it’s support for donations to Wikileaks.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.