036_G18 Arena

Global_18

Arena ‘Global mass surveillance should be discontinued immediately’ Julian Assange, co-founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, answers Global’s questions about government surveillance, his organisation’s biggest revelations and being stuck indoors at the Ecuadorian Embassy Australian-born Julian Assange, 42, is the journalist and one-time computer hacker behind the WikiLeaks website, which has made classified government information public. Most of the material released on WikiLeaks concerns evidence of military wrongdoing, including attacks on civilians and mistreatment of prisoners, particularly on the part of the USA. Already wanted by the US government in relation to the release of top secret information – which has already seen US soldier Chelsea Manning receive a lengthy prison sentence – Assange then found himself accused of sexual offences in Sweden in 2010. He was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, but released on bail. Citing concerns that he would be extradited to the USA if he went to Sweden to be tried, he sought asylum, which was granted by Ecuador. Assange was taken in by the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 where he remains, unable to reach Ecuador itself as he will be arrested by the British if he leaves. Global: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. What are your thoughts on its successes and failures thus far, and what are your hopes and fears for it in the next 25 years? Julian Assange: I am in strong agreement with Tim Berners-Lee, the original architect of the WWW. We need to be aware both of the great opportunities and the risks. The web is just one aspect of the global network – the internet. I remember before the web existed there was already a global internet and it was already transforming human interactions. In the 1990s I was part of a community – the cypherpunks – who saw that the internet was going to be the holy grail for counter-intelligence states The web accelerated the network’s proliferation into every aspect of modern daily life in advanced societies. The speed of that transformation has left global society unaware of the political and societal implications of using a one-world network as the central nervous system of humanity. Foremost among those implications was the globalisation and totalisation of surveillance. It is only recently that we have woken up to this development as a society. In the 1990s I was part of a community – the cypherpunks – who saw that the internet was going to be the holy grail for counterintelligence states and we predicted serious political ramifications if something was not done. We worked to popularise and spread cryptography to protect individuals and society from this. The last year has seen us vindicated in full. We have seen 25 years of unbridled growth and optimism. It is fitting that, as we drew up to this milestone, the world woke up to the reality of 21st-century bulk surveillance. Now we have to get working on the solutions. In your opinion, what was the single most significant or revelatory transmission/cable that WikiLeaks uncovered? The full significance of our work is to be found in aggregate. It is not for us – or for any government or news group or court – to decide which part of history is of the most value, which part of their own history people should be allowed to know. That judgement can only be made by a public that has full and unrestricted access to its own history. We are committed to enabling the public to make its own determination about what is important. That work continues to yield value as individuals, communities and human rights groups go back to our publications again and again. We see this every day. Decades from now, they will still be doing that. Without our work, they could not do that. Where our publications are there would be a black hole. That whole repository of history would still be denied to them. No single ‘revelation’ can compare with the rich significance of a fuller historical record. It is also a relative judgment. Take extraordinary rendition. The rendition and torture programme was already known about by specialist communities when we published Cablegate, but Cablegate brought lots of new details to the table and gave us insight into the diplomatic complicity of European countries in the programme. It may be an enormous revelation to a young person living in an affluent Western country that the United States and its allies administered a global secret prison system. But for someone who lived under the US regime of disappearances and night raids in Central Asia or Iraq this will not be news. However, for the victim of the rendition programme, our documents might still be hugely significant – they might present new evidence which can enable a court case seeking justice or compensation, as happened in the case of Khalid el-Masri, who used our publications in his second 36 l www.global -br ief ing.org quar ter 2014 global


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