I just finished reading The most dangerous man in the world by Andrew Fowler. The books tells a fascinating story of the rise and fall of Julian Assange, and the rise and rise of Wikileaks. There are elements of cloak and dagger, espionage, and dirty tricks, but it is also a quite sad personal story. Julian Assange is not portrayed as a hero, but rather a very flawed human being on a virtuous mission to bring open and free information to the world.
The book raises a number of interesting questions and dilemmas for me.
- The US constitution guarantees the right to free speech (I have written about the mixed blessings of this before) and yet the Obama administration and US politicians from across the political spectrum have been almost unanimous in their condemnation of Wikileaks. Is it time to redefine what people mean by Freedom of Speech?
- Other countries like Australia, the UK, and most of Europe, do not have a legal definition or protection of free speech, but the principle is enshrined in the constitutional and legal practice of these countries. Wikileaks puts the philosophy of free speech to the test and challenges lawmakers and citizens to reflect on how much we value our own and others’ privacy, and whether there really is an unlimited ‘right to know’.
- What is the value of my Australian citizenship? Julian Assange and David Hicks are Australian citizens who have engaged in dubious activities in other countries, mightily pissing off the US government. Neither of them have been convicted of breaking Australian laws, and the allegations against them are not the sort of activities which would lead to lengthy jail terms in Australia. So why has the Australian government cut them both loose. In David Hicks’ case the Australian government has actively participated in the US government’s persecution of him, and that continues even today. In Julian Assanges’s case the prime minister and other ministers have described him as a criminal, and government agencies have aided the US investigation and openly discussed revoking his passport. How much can I rely on the Australian government to protect me and look out for my interests when I travel overseas?
- MasterCard, Visa and Paypal quickly and obsequiously complied with the US government’s request to cut off funding channels to Wikileaks, making it very difficult for ordinary citizens and small corporations to financially support the organisation through donations. They did so because they claimed that they could not support or collude in illegal activities. These same three organisations; MasterCard, Visa and Paypal, derive more profit than anyone else in the world from pornography and the online sex trade. How come they are happy to continue to support these activities, but balk at providing their service to the supporters of Wikileaks?