Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wikileaks

For those who aren't aware of the Wikileaks media explosion that it currently under way, you're missing probably one of the most important show downs of the 21st century. More details can be found on wlcentral.org and at the Guardian, but in summary here is what has happened.

On Sunday 28th of November, Wikileaks (formally of Wikileaks.org but now currently, amongst over a thousand other domains, at Wikileaks.ch) began publishing over 250, 000 leaked Cables from American embassies around the world. This was accompanied by 5 news papers including the Guardian in the UK, who were also given the leak. These cables covered a number of things including criticism of the UK strategy in Afghanistan, that the US government was spying on the UN and that NATO had drawn up a plan of defence against Russia. For more information, I once again point you towards the Guardian website or on on the Cable gate search engine if you want to explore the cables themselves.

This naturally provoked the American government to condemn the site, claiming it was endangering the lives of Americans and setting back diplomacy years. Things then escalated with prominent US politicians calling for Assange - the founder of Wikileaks - to be assassinated. Pressure was applied to companies to drop Wikileaks.

And so they did, Amazon, who were hosting Wikileaks, kicked them of their server, Paypal suspended their account, everyDNS.com dropped their domain so you cannot get to the site from www.wikileaks.org any more and most alarmingly the French government threatened to take action against any company hosting the site in France.

Most recently, Assange has been charged with rape and is currently in court proceedings to extradite him to Sweden. Simultaneously, the American government is looking for laws to prosecute him relating to the leaks.

That is a rough overview and I strongly recommend reading additional things on it as it is an exciting story if nothing else.

The debate regarding whether the leaks should have been released has drawn different opinions. Personally, I am not convinced they are a good thing because some of them will set back key diplomatic relations years. For example, NATO plans against Russia will probably eliminate any chance of nuclear disarmament any time soon. Diplomacy, like all discussions between people, need some secrecy. Even your closest friend won't know everything you think about them. What is not said is an important aspect of communication.

However, this is more a criticism of whoever leaked the documents than Wikileaks, and it certainly isn't the important story to this issue. In fact, most of the leaked documents are basically irrelevant and their importance is probably overstated at the moment.

The rape charges are similarly irrelevant. Irrespective of whether this is an elaborate government conspiracy or Assange being guilty of a very serious crime of which there is little room in my heart for forgiveness, the American government has no right to try and shut down any site at all.

I am also not convinced that some of the counter-actions taken by internet enthusiasts is acceptable. For example, tracking down the two people who have excused Assange of rape and conducting a crowd sourced investigation in to them is at best morally questionable. Sure, it has turned up some quite interesting results, but if it hadn't it would be a serious invasion of privacy in to two victims.

In my opinion, the rape charge is a separate issue. Yes, the case is being conducted suspiciously and at a very coincidental time, but that doesn't instantly mean that Assange is innocent and the accusers guilty. I feel that Assange must be found innocent of these charges and put them behind us. If it seems like he was found innocent simply because of internet pressure that will be far more damaging.

The key issue is the threat this appears to be on freedom of speech. Irrespective of the content published, the American government shouldn't be leaning on companies to try their best to stop Wikileaks broadcasting and they certainly shouldn't be considering arresting him or even assassinating him.

The entire world seems to have gone mad. Sure, the content is damaging and I can understand why the US government is annoyed to have had it leaked, but surely no government claiming to believe in freedom of speech can do anything like prosecute him.

I am sure there are plenty of readers who agree with me and the American government, that actually this leak is not beneficial to anyone. However, I would hope that you all agree that this is irrelevant to the real debate: should a government be able to stop a website that is communicating content which is damaging to said government. For me, the answer is a resounding no.

If it is for you to, I implore you to take action: email your MP, persuade people that freedom of speech is at stake and this is the real debate (as opposed to the actual leak), boycott services that cave in to government demands (though that does make Christmas complicated without Paypal, Amazon, Visa or Mastercard!) and spread the word. I don't know if Assange is guilty of rape, though the circumstances seem quite odd, but I do know that he isn't guilty of treason against the American government and I do know that Wikileaks must be allowed to continue.

On a side note, there is some evidence that Twitter is actively stopping #wikileaks trend, it is certainly receiving more tweets per minute than any of the listed trending topic (though their is apparently a more sophisticated formula behind trending). Either way, follow #wikileaks to keep up to date with all the half rumours and latest news.

 
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