Hero or Traitor
In 1987, aged 16, Julian Assange began hacking under the name Mendax (Latin for “liar”.) He and two others, known as “Trax” and “Prime Suspect”, formed a hacking group they called “the International Subversives”. In 1993, Assange gave technical advice to the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit that assisted in prosecutions. In the same year, he was involved in starting one of the first public Internet service providers in Australia, Suburbia Public Access Network.
Assange is an Australian citizen, an editor, publisher, and activist who along with others, established WikiLeaks in 2006. He became a member of the organization’s advisory board and described himself as the editor-in-chief. The material WikiLeaks published between 2006 and 2009 attracted various degrees of international attention, but after it began publishing documents supplied by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley), WikiLeaks became a household name.
The Manning material included the Collateral Murder video (April 2010) which showed United States soldiers fatally shooting 18 people from a helicopter in Iraq, including journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. This material also included the Afghanistan War logs (July 2010), the Iraq War logs (October 2010), and the Guantánamo files (April 2011). The files also contained an audio/video film of US military forces murdering innocent people walking down a street and then murdering a father and his two young children who stopped to give aid to the civilians the American soldiers had shot.
… a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents
By 2015, WikiLeaks had published more than ten million documents and associated analyses and was described by Assange as “a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents”.
In an April 2017 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, then CIA director Mike Pompe called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. The accusation followed a series of “damaging leaks” of confidential documents, code-named Vault 7, that included details on the CIA’s hacking capabilities, electronic surveillance and cyber warfare, Abilities such as compromising cars, smart TVs, web browsers, along with computer and mobile phone operating systems.
Contrary to the theme of this magazine on privacy, what Julian Assange has been able to do is to give transparency to the secrets that powerful people in nation-states and the military-industrial complex hold closely. Advocates of privacy may contend that what Julian did was counter-intuitive, and unleashes a plethora of arguments that work against the ideals of privacy. However, to me, the story may not reverberate so much from the disclosure of illegal and unethical activity on our behalf, as it does by giving light to the fact that there is a class with the privilege of privacy and a class without it.
Privacy is weaponized when it is used incorrectly. When did we empower Government with an ability to absolve itself of criminal acts that it does not permit its citizens? We didn’t, but we’ve enabled them to hide the mistakes and foolish blunders behind a veil of secrecy, more commonly known as ‘a matter of national security’. This term is used to envelop a Nation-State and protect the integrity of its commitments to the people. All the more we are seeing it being used to protect people from exposure to involvement in criminal activity. Illegitimate operations performed to the benefit of 3rd party undermine the charge of consent the people gave to its government. Atrocities committed by inter-Governmental agency’s, have no business being hidden from the very people who calibrate their government. Just as an individual, so too should the same measure be applied to the people in Government responsible, when they commit a crime. There simply is no excuse.
Atrocities committed by inter-Governmental agency’s, have no business being hidden from the very people who calibrate their government
Governments are made up of representatives of the people that they govern, they are real people. Their power is derived from the sovereignty of the citizenry and a social contract is engaged that grants government power to make laws that reflect the standards of their given mandate. Once the line of unlawfulness has been tripped, Governments, like it’s citizens, must be held to account. When a government makes a decision or does something contrary to the wishes of its’ citizens, it must be accountable. By allowing a government to redact and omit information from its official reports, you open yourselves up to the possibility of being managed, like cattle.
What Julian Assange did for me was help me understand that privacy was and is used as a weapon. It is used by our ‘handlers’ in a way that also creates doubt around the purposes of privacy. But outside of government, privacy is a matter of choice, a legitimate state of being, a human right, a necessary tool for a well-functioning society. It lets us forget the past and move on. It lets us wake up to a brand new day, every day. It gives us an opportunity to make good on our inflections, and repair our mistakes. It allows us to just, be.
To be human is to be private, as private is to be free.