Julian Assange's Internet Access Cut - A Glance at WikiLeaks Impacts & Future
So – Julian Assange has had his Internet access cut. Well, let’s backpedal slightly first. Julian Assange is the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, an organization that hosts a website that has famously released files which, for varying reasons, are secret, protected, or classified. The organization has acted in the interest of informing the people of the world about information perceived as crucial but hidden. To this end, WikiLeaks was responsible for the release of numerous diplomatic cables, military documents from the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, and e-mails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) – just to name a few high profile examples. Sources for these documents vary, but the overall purpose of WikiLeaks has been to champion the release of documentation hidden from public view that is crucial to maintaining an informed & engaged public/electorate. And, returning to the initial point, Julian Assange (WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief) has had his access to the Internet cut off – effectively limiting or stopping their releases for the moment.
Why? Well, that’s slightly difficult to explain. Assange sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid facing extradition to Sweden over inquiries linked to rape charges. However, Assange has maintained that his real concern is that if he is sent to Sweden he will, in turn, be extradited to the United States for his role in releasing classified materials through WikiLeaks. Thus, at this point Assange’s Internet access is dependent on what Ecuador’s embassy provides, and they’ve finally cut him off. Recent breaking news has confirmed that Ecuador’s decision to cut Assange’s access was linked to pressure from the United States. “The action came after U.S. officials conveyed their conclusion that Assange is a willing participant in a Russian intelligence operation to undermine the U.S. presidential election, NBC News has learned.”1
To my mind this raises a few questions. First and foremost: is an organization forcing transparency on hidden endeavors and data really the worst thing in the world? Admittedly, some information must by its very nature remain protected and hidden. The need for secrecy in diplomatic communications, military records/data, and intelligence gathering is fairly undeniable. The counter to that, though, is that when given the opportunity to operate in secrecy and with impunity, miscarriages of justice often ensue. This, for many, is the heart of why an organization like WikiLeaks carries merit despite acting in ways many nation states would disapprove of.
The trouble with Assange’s most recent leak of DNC e-mails is that it has led to accusations being levied of Assange acting against the democratic process in America. Essentially, the release of these documents and Assange’s own advocacy while releasing them are seen as targeting a particular candidate: Hillary Clinton. The notion that interference in the democratic process in America is unwelcome, especially from an international outsider, certainly rings true to me. However, my greater concern is whether the data provided is accurate and what picture it paints. I say this even as one who favors Hillary Clinton, albeit begrudgingly, in this election. Yes – Assange’s interference is unwelcome and unwanted, but forcing transparency within the political process may well act to motivate change in how political parties conduct business. This could be seen in both improvements in digital security and increased levels of honest, open communication with the public. Neither of these results strike me as particularly unwelcome. And, of course, getting increased insight into the campaign efforts of a Presidential candidate offers insight into their thinking, mindset, character, and goals. That insight doesn’t seem like it should be unwelcome. Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that liberals seemed far more in favor of Assange’s efforts in forcibly increasing transparency when the target was the Bush Administration. Now, with the target being the liberal frontrunner in a Presidential election many liberals who previously supported WikiLeaks are speaking against it. It begs the question of whether one is more loyal to a political party or an ethical imperative to increase transparency and expose potential corruption.
Ultimately, the source of the data is a matter of concern. If, as most suspect, Russia is the culprit it does add in a further troubling dynamic to the equation. At that point it no longer becomes a matter of whether an individual is tipping the scales of an election by releasing data, but whether another country is. Still – despite my concerns and misgivings, I find it hard to embrace any position that advocates for lessening transparency.
1 – NBC covering the rationale behind Ecuador cutting off Julian Assange’s Internet access. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/u-s-urged-ecuador-act-against-assange-n669271