October 06, 2012
JULIAN Assange writes on what he sees as Australia’s failure to uphold truth and justice, in favour of the American way.
For over a decade now, governments around the world having been doing all they can to reduce scrutiny over the exercise of their power. Countries like China and Iran are rightly criticised for their attempts to suppress dissenting voices online. But the US, supposedly the land of the free, has a similarly poor track record.
President Obama has been waging a war on whistleblowers from the Oval Office, the most obvious example being the mistreatment of Bradley Manning. The Obama-Biden campaign brags about prosecuting twice as many “national security” disclosures as all previous administrations combined. There have also been sustained attacks on my organisation, WikiLeaks, via a financial blockade of donations enforced with the support of the US government.
Most disturbingly, WikiLeaks has been warned by the Pentagon not to solicit service members to leak classified information. Military personnel who make contact with WikiLeaks or our supporters could be charged with “communicating with the enemy,” a crime that carries a possible death sentence. The Pentagon has also stated this month that it considers the continued publication by WikiLeaks of classified information belonging to the US government to be an ongoing violation of the law.
This sets a precedent: contact by military whistleblowers to any media organization may soon be treated with similar hostility.
But these attacks are not just directed at whistleblowers and those that publish their information for the public to see. Governments in the UK, the US and Australia are seeking to extend already extreme powers of surveillance so they can gather intelligence on their citizens.
Under proposed changes to national security laws, the Australian government will force Internet service providers to retain the internet and phone records of all Australians for two years. Some agencies are demanding even more extreme powers to keep a full record of citizens activities indefinitely. Such extremism will in effect be the reality: the proposed laws require the creation of a nation-wide infrastructure that is capable of intercepting all communications.
Every email, every Facebook post, every tweet, every google search will pass through this database and portions will be stored and could be used against you at some point down the track.
A nation wide mass interception infrastructure is a national security disaster waiting to happen. Of course, the changes to the law promised at the last election to protect whistleblowers have fallen off the legislative agenda.
These are significant expansions of government power without justification and without any checks and balances to ensure that the rights of everyday people are respected. There is no way of knowing how this or future governments will use such power. Australians deserve to know what is being done in their name.
Technology offers us incredible opportunities to share information, spread ideas and collaborate across geographical divides. It has the potential to shine a light on wrong-doing, correct injustice and empower those without a voice. The freedom to use such platforms must be safely defended, lest it become simply a place for the government to spy on its population.
The power given to governments to govern, after all, derives from the mandate given by the people. Technology should be about empowering citizens and giving expression to the inner core of our public and private political lives. This is a prospect that makes the powers that be very uncomfortable.
When an organisation like WikiLeaks shows the emperor with no clothes on, predictably every attempt is made to undermine us. The Prime Minister has never retracted the comment she made about WikiLeaks being based on an illegal act. By her own Governments admission, such an accusation is unsustainable. It is untrue and should be retracted.
The Australian Government has turned its back on one of its citizens, in order to avoid offending the US, and has repeatedly lied about its support for me. Ecuador, after careful and lengthy consideration of the evidence, concluded that I had a well-founded fear of persecution and that I could not rely on my own government to protect me.
It is bitterly disappointing that the country that I love has abandoned my organisation. WikiLeaks is an Australian organisation and an Australian success story and yet the Australian Government has done nothing to defend us. Quite the contrary. It has slandered us in public during a time when we face significant risks.
For me personally, it is difficult and in some cases impossible to see my family and friends. I have been unable to be with them in recent moments of family grief.
I want nothing more than to do my work in peace. I began my career as someone who understood the importance of exposing corruption and wrong doing. I am now a publisher who faces persecution for doing my job. It is the duty of publishers to fearlessly publish the truth and the duty of all good citizens to defend their right to do so.
It is time for Australia to embrace a different path: to reject campaigns of harassment and intimidation against publishers, journalists and whistleblowers. We must demand that our government abandon efforts to impose a surveillance state on its citizens. We deserve a government that protects its citizens no matter whom they have offended or embarrassed. We have the opportunity to build a democracy that welcomes transparency and the more just, humane and responsive government that it brings.