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Who Julian Assange?

  • Born in Australia
  • Moved a total of 30 times before his 14th birthday
  • At 16 he began hacking under the name “Mendax” (Latin for “nobly truthful”)
  • In 1993 he helped to start Suburbia Public Access Network
  • Around 1997, he co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system
  • In 1999 he registered the domain leaks.org
  • Created a site called WikiLeaks in 2006

What is WikiLeaks?

  • An international, online, not-for-profit organization
  • They publish private, secret and classified media
  • Relies heavily on volunteers
  • Originally a user-editable wiki
  • Been releasing stories since 2006
  • Biggest release to date: Cablegate

What has happened since?

  • Companies severed ties with WikiLeaks
  • Attempts to shut down the site failed
  • Financial blockade
  • Assange has been detained and imprisoned

Cablegate and subsequent accusations to the character of Julian Assange have led to Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview, an article published this past February where author and journalist, Michael Hastings, had a chance to interview Assange at an undisclosed location.

The main points that I gleaned from the interview:

1. Information should be open, so people can educate themselves

In the article Assange says that “the things that informed me the most were my experiences in fighting for freedom of the press, freedom to communicate knowledge – which, in the end, is freedom from ignorance.”

2. Truth is essential

When asked about his portrayal by The New York Times, Assange cites the paper’s mishandling of an important news story. He states “when we published the Iraq War logs, we discovered details about the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians, and details of the torture of more than 1,000 people. Every other paper ran the story.” He goes on to say “instead, [the Times] ran a sleazy hit piece against me on the front page that was factually inaccurate…I don’t mind taking a hit, but it must be factually accurate.”

3. People need to talk about issues

Assange seems to allow WikiLeaks the credit of fueling Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world that began on Friday, 17 December 2010 , as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement. He says “we planned for most of what has occurred over the past 12 months.” Whether or not WikiLeaks brought about the two events, essentially, Assange believes that issues have to be brought forward for people to hear, otherwise there are going to be no revolutions.

4. There needs to be legitimate authority through informed consent of the governed

Assange states that “presently, the consent, if there is any, is not informed, and therefore it’s not legitimate.” The rights of people to communicate privately without surveillance is important because surveillance leads to self-censorship in that people adjust what they say for fear of being overheard.

5. Stick to your ideals

Assange refuses to stop publishing information despite the hardships that have fallen on WikiLeaks. He believes that they have a duty to bring stories to the public’s attention, to keep them informed and educated.

6. Issues have created stronger ties and severed weaker ones

Assange says “we have lost friends and colleagues, but we have also made very loyal friends, and we have seen the strength of old friends revealed…one never really knows what the true allegiance is. But when someone puts it on the line both publically and privately, that’s a sign of true character.”

Questions for discussion:

1. How far do you think governments should be able to go when it comes to censoring sites like WikiLeaks? Should they be able to at all?

2. During the interview it is brought up that The Washington Post had sat on the “Collateral Murder” video depicting a U.S. helicopter gunship firing on a group of Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists and two children. That kind of information is a game changer when it comes to politics and state. Do you think that journalists have an obligation to share that kind of information with the public?

3. Assange and Hastings talk a lot about how Assange is portrayed by the media. He is seen as a martyr by some and by others he is seen as a deviant. Either way he has become a celebrity of sorts, which is the opposite of what groups like Anonymous strive for. It should be about the overall issues, not the individuals. Do you think that having Assange as the face of WikiLeaks has helped or hindered their cause?