Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikileaks, Assange and Stross

Charles Stross has a great bit on his blog about Julian Assange. He is trending toward irrational exuberance, here, but I have to agree on the core point: anyone willing to publish these documents (Google for "Wikileaks" if you're not aware of the situation) is a kind of hero. It used to be that you went to the papers, but the papers are gasping for air and can't jeopardize their relationship with the government. Is there anything all that awful in the leaks? Not really, but it does make it harder, as Stross points out, for any group larger than 5-10 people to do anything they're going to be shocked or embarrassed by when it hits the Interwebs. This, to my thinking, is a good thing.

The counter-claim I've heard is that this makes it harder for foreign governments to trust us with their secrets (one example being given relates to Yemen cooperating over Al Qaeda raids, a reasonable concern). However, this is a reason to keep such secrets ... well, secret. Keeping them on file in a massive government bureaucracy isn't that, and the fact that someone then leaks that information is on the head of the person who does so, IMHO. Interestingly, we're not even talking about that person. We're just talking about the guy who did the actual publishing, which seems odd. He's just one guy with a Web site and no access to internal U.S. government information. Why not just prevent him from getting the information in the first place?

On a less wholesome note, I'll point out that Stross is a bit off on his analysis of the rape charge. While this definitely looks like a case of politically-motivated and kind of whacked-out revenge rather than a real rape claim, the charge being leveled against Assange isn't that he slept with another woman after the claimant, but that he had unprotected sex. This, apparently, under Swedish law can constitute rape even if the sex is consensual. I'm a bit shocked by this, but none the less, this is the claim I read on Wikipedia which is citing a Sydney Morning Herald piece about the rape charges. The part of the case that seems weird, however, is that the Sweedish authorities responded to Assange's willingness to meet with them at the Sweedish embassy or Scotland Yard with a request to Interpol and the EU for extradition. That's going way over the top, it would seem, given that their request was for interrogation, not trial.

Anyway, the wonderful thing about the Internet is: someone's going to pop up and offer the same service, even if Assange is buried for his role in this. It's awful to see him go through what even the women in question admit are rape charges over consensual sex, but in the end, I think his fears that he'll be handed over to the U.S. and harmed are unfounded... at least, I hope that will be the case. I want to think we haven't sunk that far...


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