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Open Internet and Democratic Principles Under Attack

It is somewhat ironic that, several years ago now, Rupert Murdoch (while hinting at China) said something along the lines of the new media constituting a threat to totalitarian regimes, and that these regimes would have to open up and democratise.

At that time the entire the western world, led by America (perhaps quietly), applauded his statement.

President Obama, as well as other political leaders, have praised the virtues of the open Internet and the fact that it provides for much better transparency. We also see our ‘wise’ government leaders warning our children about the use of services such as Facebook and advising them to be careful about what they write on these sites.

However, now that those western leaders are being confronted with exactly the same issues, and are seeing for themselves the enormous democratic benefits of the Internet, they are behaving in a most authoritarian way.

What have they been thinking? That they are invincible? That they are not subject to these same democratic principles?

Back in 530 the Roman historian Tribonian wrote: The will of the Prince has the force of law. That stand is still being taken today by what we call rogue nations, but many of our ‘civilised’ and democratically elected leaders are now reacting to these Wikileaks in a similar way.

The American government has apparently never recognised that it is not above the law, and that it is subject to the levels of scrutiny that are necessary for a modern democracy to function. Despite several years of Wikileaks and an ongoing stream of information that these Wikileaks were on their way, it is now clear that they did not even have a contingency plan for the essential damage control that would be required.

Every single politician affected by the Wikileaks is saying that no damage has been done; however their authoritarian reactions give the lie to this.

I agree that very little damage has been done, as all countries operate along similar lines and have similar frank exchanges of thoughts and opinions. In principle there is nothing wrong with that. But it should not be put down on paper.

The Americans have been caught out. They have the largest diplomatic force in the world and as a world power they tend to behave arrogantly. And so, from a Wikileaks point of view, their diplomatic cables are a treasure trove.

Nevertheless, if the Russian, Chinese, Australian or Dutch diplomatic cables were to be exposed they would no doubt create similar embarrassments.

Perhaps equally worrying is the fact that reputable companies like Amazon and PayPal simply closed down service without any proof of criminal behaviour. This could perhaps be expected from companies with vested interests, such as Mastercard, Visa and Time - but not from leading Internet companies that rely on the open principles of the Internet.

That is a very worrying development; in fact it was considered to be so dangerous that the Internet Society issued a statement on it.

Let us hope that in the end it is simply an overreaction and that our politicians and panicking industry leaders quickly realise that they are taking a very dangerous path, along which our democratic principles are coming under attack.

In the meantime the general public is sitting back slightly stunned, and, in most cases at least, somewhat amused at the spectacle of many of our politicians making fools of themselves.

However there will inevitably be a public reaction to the events that are taking place - in fact, it is already starting to emerge, and many of our leaders may have to eat their words.

I could not believe it when I heard the Prime Minister of Australia threatening to withdraw the citizenship of Julian Assange. That would be a totally illegal act! What was she thinking?

On the other hand, we saw the Australian Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, who had received a lot of flak in the Wikileaks from his American colleagues, responding in a far more composed manner, guaranteeing that Assange will enjoy the full rights of an Australian citizen.

If the American government is not careful it will create a hero or a martyr out of Assange and he will become the focal point of an ongoing popular opposition to any actions taken against him or Wikileaks.

I also find it simply unbelievable that one of the most respected democratic nations in the world, Sweden, is behaving in a similar over-the-top way. As to the sexual harassment case, it is incomprehensible that this has become an Interpol case.

Some of the most respected and brightest legal people in the world have already pledged their support to Assange and that is a very comforting development.

A great deal of embarrassment is being experienced in political circles and many people are obviously feeling threatened, but we should not ‘shoot the messenger’. Assange is NOT the problem.

From now on there will be ‘Wikileaks’ everywhere. Watch out for sector-specific leak sites that will no doubt begin to appear. Did the closure of Napstar stop the downloading of illegal content? Do worldwide anti-porn and anti-spam regulations stop that?

The Wikileaks are one of those life-changing events that will reshape our world. It is a major wake-up call and a fantastic opportunity for more transparency and a better democracy.

We are now at the crossroads. Are we going to retreat to where ‘The will of the Prince has the force of law’ or are we going to use these events to further democratise our societies?

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication

Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

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Dishonest commentary Richard Bennett  –  Dec 10, 2010 10:57 PM

I’ll point out one obviously dishonest statement in your post as I don’t have the time to go through it point-by-point. You say Assange is involved in a “sexual harassment case” when he’s been actually been charged with rape and sexual assault for forcing two women to have sex with him without a condom. We define “sexual harassment” in the US as telling off-color jokes to prudes and creating an uncomfortable workplace; nobody ever died from it. Unprotected sex, however, can have deadly consequences.

You dismiss the cables in a similarly cavalier manner. They’re not simply “embarrassing,” they’re dangerous. It could very well be the case that some of them put people’s lives in danger; our former president Clinton (who knows a thing or two about sexual harassment, incidentally) has said as much.

I also notice you have nothing to say about the DDoS attacks on the web sites of the various financial institutions that have refused to take part in Assange’s extortion racket.

I understand that the world is full of people who suffer from the inferiority complex, and you appear to be one of them. Try putting the shoe on the other foot as ask yourself how you’d feel if someone put your mother’s life in danger by releasing possibly false but inflammatory information about her around the Internet. Not so nice, is it?

Diplomacy is an alternative to warfare, and your rapist hero has just made it less effective.

This is not good.

Dishonest commentary meets its own likeness The Famous Brett Watson  –  Dec 11, 2010 3:05 AM

I also notice you have nothing to say about the DDoS attacks on the web sites of the various financial institutions that have refused to take part in Assange's extortion racket.
I see you don't shrink from dishonest commentary yourself. In fact, you are highly efficient in your use of it, packing two misdirections into a single sentence here. For one, Wikileaks is not an extortion racket: they are not blackmailing or coercing payment out of anyone. The US government applied a little pressure to the financial channels through which they were accepting voluntary donations, and those institutions willingly rolled over. The subsequent attacks against those institutions are not the doing of Wikileaks, but rather of Anonymous, so why should anything need to be said? And yet you frown on this omission, suggesting that Wikileaks is somehow accountable for the attacks, and must explain itself. Bravo on your use of innuendo.
Diplomacy is an alternative to warfare, and your rapist hero has just made it less effective.
Alleged rapist. Anyone can accuse another of a crime. It's a very simple and effective way to turn public opinion against the accused, especially when the alleged crime is a sexual offence, which is why this current allegation stinks to high heaven of foul play. In any case, I don't take it as given that these leaks have had any negative impact on diplomacy. The major impact has been to drive embarrassed politicians into red-faced conniptions, and to demonstrate how readily large corporations will betray small customers, given the right controversy and government posturing.

WASHINGTON — Julian Assange, the beleaguered founder Richard Bennett  –  Dec 11, 2010 3:43 AM

WASHINGTON — Julian Assange, the beleaguered founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, has threatened to release many more confidential diplomatic cables if legal action is taken against him or his organization. Mr. Assange’s threat poses a problem for the Obama administration as it explores ways to prosecute Mr. Assange or the group.


“DataCell…has decided to take up immediate legal actions to make donations possible again,” DataCell CEO Andreas Fink said in a statement Wednesday. Fink told ZDNet UK that DataCell would pursue legal action as soon as possible: “Not being able to receive money from the public for a week can cost WikiLeaks seven-digit figures in losses, and DataCell as well, as it is unable to process any cards.”


Sounds like extortion to me, whatever the alleged sexual harasser did to the two women in Sweden.

Nope, no extortion there The Famous Brett Watson  –  Dec 11, 2010 3:49 PM

I don't know what you think extortion is, but I still can't see any extortion there. The second quotation only establishes that Wikileaks receives donations. Big surprise: we know that. The US government is aiding that by giving the guy more publicity than he could possibly hope to achieve on his own. The first quotation isn't extortion either: it's the Wikileaks doomsday device. Their charter is to release information. They try to do it responsibly: they go through the information and try to assure they're not releasing details that will get someone killed. If the US government tries to take Wikileaks down, they'll just release everything they've got, as is, immediately. It may be a threat, but it's still not extortion.

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