Julian Assange of Wikileaks, has won the reader’s poll at TIME Magazine for Person of the Year in 2010. Never mind that the editors picked Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook for the prestigious recognition. Assange is still the people’s choice with more than double the votes for Turkish Prime Minister Ergodan on 2nd place. When I checked the poll in progress Erdogan was at the top, Lady Gaga came 2nd, with Assange in the middle and Zuckerberg in last place. That’s why the final results were quite interesting, as they might indicate how the general public values freedom of speech represented by Assange, versus political action to reclaim freedom, represented by Erdogan.
Assange: a Freedom Fighter or a Threat to Freedom?
Assange’s critics call him a terrorist, a spy and a danger to the United States, although he’s an Australian citizen. Some politicians have even called for his termination as a serious threat to global stability. His supporters consider him a brave journalist dedicated to exposing political manipulation and advancing the cause of transparency, and countless people around the world are looking up to him as an iconic hero, but is he really? With his ordinary guy image, and his smear-campaign serving to rally public support, his only claim to fame is digging up and publishing dirty secrets of world leaders, which is the equivalent of what tabloids do with celebrities. So, are people supporting him for a true value they derive from the leaks, or only as an ethical obligation to support freedom of information? Whether we like it or not, surveillance, censorship and privacy infringements have become a fact of life. Intrusive body scanners and pat downs are causing outrage in US airports, Facebook is going to war over privacy, and Google and Apple are defending themselves against accusations of spying on users. When it comes to privacy, the “free” world is no better than China in the eyes of many. It is then plausible that people want to retaliate by snooping into the affairs of the Big Players to even the score. In that context, Wikileaks only offers high-octane entertainment for the underdog, yet, what is the impact of those leaks on limiting freedom of information? After all, the decision makers have now been offered a golden opportunity to put an Orwellian scheme into motion, with the excuse that sensitive information is dangerous in the hands of the inexperienced general public.
The War on Information
Is Wikileaks in fact a controlled leak, which serves a plan to censor the Internet, allowing only licensed personnel to run major sites? If information becomes the enemy, then that enemy will be fought, and judging by our experience in the War on Terror, drastic limitations on individual liberties and civil rights are the result. Technology is now accused of pausing a commercial and strategic threat: enabling supporters to hack top commercial sites in retaliation for dropping Wikileaks accounts under political pressure, and putting US agents around the world in danger. So under the “Internet Kill Switch” bill passed last June by the US senate, it would be very possible to shut down thousands of sites for “national security” reasons, pending acquiring an operation license, and that would be the end of free Internet. If that nightmare is a possible scenario, the man of the people won’t be the true victim; the major casualty of that dirty war would be our freedom.