Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/12/2010 (3945 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What should be done about Julian Assange? Since WikiLeaks, the organization of which he is both the founder and inspiration, burst into the news in a cyber-cloud of controversy, that question appears to be on almost everyone's mind, from the Pentagon, which wants to destroy his operation in a battle that has been called equivalent to a controlled nuclear cyber-war; to the Swedes, who want him on rape charges unrelated to the leaks; to the American administration and most other governments in the West and many regimes elsewhere, who desperately want to see this continuing embarrassment put to an end. And let's not forget Tom Flanagan, the Canadian political scientist who briefly and at least half-jokingly suggested Mr. Assange be assassinated. Mr. Assange, with no one else to prosecute, wants Mr. Flanagan charged with incitement to commit murder, as do some other overreactors.
Mr. Flanagan's remarks would probably have passed unnoticed were it not for the fact he was once an adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and has since been a tool easily used to embarrass the Tory leader. WikiLeaks might have passed largely unnoticed, too, were it not for the release earlier this year of documents that contained classified information about the Iraq war and now is flooding the world with a continuous stream of classified U.S. State Department cables -- briefly interrupted Monday -- that has created some awkward diplomatic situations.
But what can be done about WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange? The answer is probably nothing. The real question is: Should something be done about them? The answer to that seems to be probably not. By leaking the documents, he appears to have committed no crime that falls under any particular jurisdiction.
The material is the property of the U.S., but other people, the actual thieves, gave it to him, so he cannot be charged with espionage nor, because he is an Australian, with treason. There appears to be nothing he can be charged with beyond cyber-recklessness. In fact, in the absence of any obvious agenda on his part, he may be nothing more than a mischief-maker in crusader's clothing.
The U.S. will continue to attack the WikiLeaks network in an effort to destroy it. It will be criticized for that, but it was not Washington that started this cyber-war and it has a right to defend itself. So far it has done some damage. If one could be said to be "on the run" on the Internet, then Mr. Assange is in that position, fleeing from website to website to make his transmissions. But all of those efforts have not yet been able to stop the leaks and those who believe in the Internet as a great and free exchange of information should hope they continue to be unsuccessful.
Every war has collateral damage, and there is a danger that in this cyber-war Mr. Assange has begun, the greatest casualty will be the weapon he used to start it, that the attempts to close him down will result in new technology, new methods that can be used to restrict the Internet.
We see restrictions in place already in totalitarian countries such as China and Burma, where access to information on the web is strictly and severely limited.
Clearly, that is what the Pentagon wants to do with Mr. Assange's organization. A possible result of that success is a much-restricted flow of information, rather than a more free one.
Mr. Assange may end up hoist by his own petard, and taking the rest of us with him.