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Wikileaks Founder Calls Internet A ‘Spying Machine’

March 16, 2011

In a rare public speaking appearance, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told students at Cambridge University that he believed the Internet was “the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen” and that it could be, in AFP’s words, “an obstacle to free speech.”

The 39-year-old Assange “acknowledged that the web could allow greater government transparency and better co-operation between activists,” Guardian reporter Patrick Kingsley wrote on Tuesday, “but said it gave authorities their best ever opportunity to monitor and catch dissidents.”

While the Australian Wikileaks founder said that the World Wide Web “has in some ways an ability to let us know to an unprecedented level what government is doing, and to let us co-operate with each other to hold repressive governments and repressive corporations to account,” it could also be used by those same government officials and corporations for espionage.

“It [the web] is not a technology that favors freedom of speech. It is not a technology that favors human rights. It is not a technology that favors civil life. Rather it is a technology that can be used to set up a totalitarian spying regime, the likes of which we have never seen,” Assange said, according to Kingsley. “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.”

Furthermore, in his speech to the Cambridge Union Society, Assange downplayed the role that Facebook and Twitter played in recent Middle Eastern uprisings, and said, according to BBC News, that al-Jazeera and the diplomatic cables released by his own website played a much greater role.

“The Tunisian cables showed clearly that if it came down to it, the US, if it came down to a fight between the military on the one hand, and [President Zine al-Abidine] Ben Ali’s political regime on the other, the US would probably support the military,” he said, according to information originally published by Reuters and reprinted by BBC News.

Likewise, he said that those documents made it difficult “for the US to support a key Egyptian regime figure” while tensions were escalating against former President Hosni Mubarak.

“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 and Twitter’,” Kingsley wrote.

The reason for that was very simple, claims Assange.

“There was actually a Facebook revolt in Cairo three or four years ago,” he said, according to AFP. “It was very small… After it, Facebook was used to round up all the principal participants and they were then beaten, interrogated and incarcerated.”

According to the BBC, 800 students were in attendance at the event.

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