Julian Assange, the frontman of WikiLeaks, has claimed that the internet is “the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen”, and that it is “not a technology that favours freedom of speech”.
Assange, who is in the process of appealing his extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape, told Cambridge University students that the web “is not a technology that favours human rights.
“Rather, it is a technology that can be used to set up a totalitarian spying regime, the likes of which we have never seen. Or, on the other hand, taken by us, taken by activists, and taken by all those who want a different trajectory for the technological world, it can be something we all hope for.”
Assange, who has become the focus of much controversy after WikiLeaks released thousands of confidential diplomatic cables, also took the opportunity of a rare public appearance to play down the role Facebook and Twitter have had on uprisings in the Middle East, while suggesting that the cable leaks were the catalyst that led to civil unrest in countries such as Egypt.
“Yes, [Twitter and Facebook] did play a part, although not nearly as large a part as Al-Jazeera. But the guide produced by Egyptian revolutionaries … says on the first page, ‘Do not use Facebook and Twitter’, and says on the last page, ‘Do not use Facebook or Twitter’.
“There is a reason for that. There was actually a Facebook revolt in Cairo three or four years ago. It was very small … after it, Facebook was used to round-up all the principal participants. They were then beaten, interrogated and incarcerated,” he told students.
He claimed WikiLeaks’ actions have given revolutionary forces the confidence to strike out at their dictatorships, using Tunisa as an example. He said the cables suggested the US, if faced between choosing Ben Ali’s political regime or the military, would side with the latter. “That is something that must have also given neighbouring countries to Tunisia some thought: that is, that if they militarily intervened, they may not be on the same side as the United States.”
When asked about Bradley Manning, the US soldier being held in prison for allegedly leaking confidential information, Assange was sympathetic, but distanced WikiLeaks from Manning’s actions. “He is in a terrible situation. And if he is not connected to us, [then] he is there as an innocent … and if he is in some manner connected to our publications, then of course we have some responsibility.
“That said, there is no allegation that he was arrested as the result of anything to do with us. The allegation is that he was arrested as a result of him speaking to Wired magazine in the United States.”
(Source: The Guardian)