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Global Viewpoint

WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and the dark side of Internet freedom

Evgeny Morozov discusses the implications of WikiLeaks on open vs. closed societies, the paradox of attacking state power, and the future of Internet privacy.

December 7, 2010



Palo Alto, Calif.

Evgeny Morozov, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, is the author of “The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World.” He spoke with Global Viewpoint Network editor Nathan Gardels on Monday, December 6 about the implications of WikiLeaks.

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Assange's main target: government power

Nathan Gardels: The most recent Wikileaks cache is not your father’s Pentagon Papers.

Like a neutron bomb of the information age, it has indiscriminately destroyed good diplomacy and duplicity alike across a broad spectrum of political cultures.
Should there be limits to the kind of extreme glasnost represented by WikiLeaks? If so, by what criteria do we responsibly draw them?

Evgeny Morozov: The more I learn about Julian Assange’s philosophy, the more I come to believe that he is not really rooting to destroy secrecy or make transparency the primary good in social relations. His is a fairly conventional – even if a bit odd – political quest for “justice.”

As far as I can understand Mr. Assange’s theory – and I don’t think that it’s terribly coherent or well thought-out– he believes that one way to achieve justice is to minimize the power of governments to do things that their citizens do not know of and may not approve of if they do.

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There is nothing in this theory that heralds the end of secrecy across the entire social spectrum: Citizens, at least nominally, are entitled to go about their own business; it’s the government that is the main target.

Here we mustn’t forget that Assange made a name for himself in computer circles by being one of the key developers of a software application that helped users – and particularly human rights activists in authoritarian regimes – to encrypt and protect their data from the eyes of the authorities. So I don’t think that Assange opposes “secrecy” altogether; for him, it’s really all about keeping the government in check.

Frankly, I don’t know to what extent he had a chance to really come up with a theory about the role that secrecy plays in international relations and diplomacy.

Even if had read all the cables, he would need to know the world much more intimately than the CIA to really assess the impact of the planned release. For example, it’s very tough to predict whether such files would trigger a war in the Caucasus without knowing the politics of Armenia and Azerbaijan....

So while we can continue trying to understand the limits of “publicness” in diplomacy, I am not sure that Assange would disagree with us on any of this. It just so happens that he has a vision for changing the world and he believes that, if implemented, this vision might dwarf all these current harms to diplomacy.

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