Posts Tagged ‘freedom of information’
When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought asylum on June 19, the question many supporters asked was: “Why the Ecuadorian embassy?”
The simple answer is because the Ecuadorian government has been one of the strongest supporters of WikiLeaks, which reflects its strong stance in defence of media and information freedom.
Much has been made in the media about supposed abuses of media freedom in Ecuador.
However, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa explained Ecuador’s media policy in a recent interview with Assange on Russia Today. What his government opposes are media corporations that, through their monopoly on information, have tried to “destabilise our government to avoid any change in our region and lose the power that they have always flaunted”.
Since first being elected president in 2006, Correa — much like Assange — has faced a constant campaign of slander and misinformation, co-ordinated by the media corporations.
Only months after Correa became president, 11 big Ecuadorian daily newspapers published the same front-page editorial attacking him. This was described in a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks as “an unprecedented example of coordinated press rebuke to a sitting president”.
In fact, while publicly criticising Correa for supposed attacks on media freedom, a US embassy cable from March 2009 acknowledged that there was truth to Correa’s claim that “the Ecuadorian media play a political role, in this case the role of the opposition”.
The reason was made clear in the cable: “Many media outlet owners come from the elite business class that feels threatened by Correa’s reform agenda, and defend their own economic interests via their outlets.”
Speaking to Assange, Correa noted that when he was first elected in 2006, five of the seven privately-owned TV channels were owned by bankers and the state owned none.
In 2008, Ecuadorians voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution. Among other things, it sought to democratise the media and ban bankers from having business interests in the media industry.
The constitution was strengthened last year. Voters backed an amendment to also ban media corporations from being able to own or have shares in business interests in other industries to avoid potential conflicts of interest in reporting news.
The government has also tried to pass a new media law that would break up the corporate media monopoly.
Under the new law, private media ownership would be restricted to 33% of all media outlets, with the state controlling a further 33% and community media having the largest share — 34%.
So far, the new law has been blocked in parliament by the right-wing opposition and vociferously denounced by the media corporations as an attack on “freedom of speech”.
Unsurprisingly, Ecuador’s media has largely failed to cover the contents of the embassy cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, particularly those that have exposed some of their own secrets.
For example, an October 2004 embassy cable revealed how media corporations had colluded to silence information after Ecuador’s banking sector collapse of 1999-2000.
At the time, a conflict broke out between two TV channels that threatened to expose the dealings of bankers linked to their rivals. To avoid escalating the conflict, a “non-aggression pact” was brokered, halting any further media investigations into the dodgy practices of these bankers.
Although initially critical of WikiLeaks, the Ecuadorian government relied in part on leaked cables for its decision to expel the US ambassador in April last year.
The next month, the Ecuadorian government announced that WikiLeaks had published about 950 cables relating to Ecuador at its request.
1. Julian Assange
The Australian who turned a precocious hacking habit into an activist crusade for freedom of information founded WikiLeaks in 2006. Julian Assange and his site rose to prominence with the release of classified documents revealing government corruption, civilian casualties in the Iraq and Afghan wars, and the full text of Sarah Palin’s emails. The organization’s most recent coup: publishing internal emails from global intelligence firm Stratfor. For his part, Assange remains holed up in Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he’s accused of sexual misconduct. He launched a talk show in April.
This article has been updated on 3 May 2012 – see below
After dodging and delaying FOI requests about its consideration of the case of Julian Assange for months, the government has blocked the release of any material that would reveal its internal legal deliberations over Assange’s extradition to the United States.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam made an FOI application to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Attorney-General’s Department and their respective ministerial offices in December seeking documents relating to “the potential extradition or temporary surrender” of Assange to the US.
The response of the government has been a litany of excuses and self-justifications.
After several months, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is still seeking to avoid responding. In March, DFAT said it would take them a remarkable four months to process the request and demanded that Ludlam justify why a request for documents about Assange’s extradition was a matter in the public interest. At the end of March, DFAT demanded another 30 days on top of the four months, on the basis that they’d only just realised they would have to consult with foreign governments over the request.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet quickly fobbed off the request entirely by claiming that the request “would unreasonably divert the resources of the department”, an excuse permitted under s.24 of the FOI Act.
So far only Attorney-General’s has responded, after trying to unsuccessfully convince the Information Commissioner to re-extend the deadline for responding, and actually breaching the response deadline. The result (PDF), when it finally arrived in late March, featured extensive use of the famous black highlighter and bordered on nonsensical.
Among the treasures served up by Attorney-General’s were:
- Emails relating to AGD secretary Roger Wilkins questions about Assange’s extradition, redacted to the point of meaninglessness, on the basis of “legal professional privilege”;
- Detailed advice to Wilkins about Assange’s extradition, including the issue of his facing the death penalty, was entirely redacted (legal professional privilege)
- A question time brief for Robert McClelland, in which both the talking points and the background material is almost entirely redacted because it “could cause damage to Australia’s international relations”
- Emails between departmental staff about a request from McClelland’s office for “lines” for use in response to possible questions about Assange after a newspaper article.
- Correspondence from people concerned about the issue and media articles
- Some of the Greens’ own correspondence and notices of motion, one of which was bizarrely redacted despite being a public document.
The redactions prevent any assessment of what exactly the government knows about the US government’s sealed indictment for Assange. The government has played dumb on the issue, publicly declaring it knows nothing about the matter, despite it apparently being common knowledge in Washington circles (as revealed by the Stratfor emails) that a sealed indictment against Assange had been issued.
Late today the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sought an additional month to respond to Senator Ludlam’s FOI request “on the basis that continuing international consultation and the complexity of decision-making required prior to finalising the documents for release.” The continuing consultation raises the possibility of the US or Swedish governments seeking to veto the release of documents under Freedom of Information. DFAT’s deadline for responding will, if the Office of the Information Commissioner agrees, be extended to 3 June (DFAT has withdrawn the claim that it will take it 4 months to process the request). The new deadline effectively ensures that the Australian Government’s position vis-à-vis Assange won’t be revealed before the outcome of his appeal against his European Arrest Warrant is concluded.
John Pilger – 26 April 2012
You are all potential terrorists. It matters not that you live in Britain, the United States, Australia or the Middle East. Citizenship is effectively abolished. Turn on your computer and the US Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center may monitor whether you are typing not merely “al-Qaeda”, but “exercise”, “drill”, “wave”, “initiative” and “organisation”: all proscribed words. The British government’s announcement that it intends to spy on every email and phone call is old hat. The satellite vacuum cleaner known as Echelon has been doing this for years. What has changed is that a state of permanent war has been launched by the United States and a police state is consuming western democracy.
What are you going to do about it?
In Britain, on instructions from the CIA, secret courts are to deal with “terror suspects”. Habeas Corpus is dying. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that five men, including three British citizens, can be extradited to the US even though none except one has been charged with a crime. All have been imprisoned for years under the 2003 US/UK Extradition Treaty which was signed one month after the criminal invasion of Iraq. The European Court had condemned the treaty as likely to lead to “cruel and unusual punishment”. One of the men, Babar Ahmad, was awarded 63,000 pounds compensation for 73 recorded injuries he sustained in the custody of the Metropolitan Police. Sexual abuse, the signature of fascism, was high on the list. Another man is a schizophrenic who has suffered a complete mental collapse and is in Broadmoor secure hospital; another is a suicide risk. To the Land of the Free, they go – along with young Richard O’Dwyer, who faces 10 years in shackles and an orange jump suit because he allegedly infringed US copyright on the internet.
As the law is politicised and Americanised, these travesties are not untypical. In upholding the conviction of a London university student, Mohammed Gul, for disseminating “terrorism” on the internet, Appeal Court judges in London ruled that “acts… against the armed forces of a state anywhere in the world which sought to influence a government and were made for political purposes” were now crimes. Call to the dock Thomas Paine, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela.
What are you going to do about it?
The prognosis is clear now: the malignancy that Norman Mailer called “pre fascist” has metastasized. The US attorney-general, Eric Holder, defends the “right” of his government to assassinate American citizens. Israel, the protege, is allowed to aim its nukes at nukeless Iran. In this looking glass world, the lying is panoramic. The massacre of 17 Afghan civilians on 11 March, including at least nine children and four women, is attributed to a “rogue” American soldier. The “authenticity” of this is vouched by President Obama himself, who had “seen a video” and regards it as “conclusive proof”. An independent Afghan parliamentary investigation produces eyewitnesses who give detailed evidence of as many as 20 soldiers, aided by a helicopter, ravaging their villages, killing and raping: a standard, if marginally more murderous US special forces “night raid”. Read the rest of this entry »
Philip Dorling – March 27, 2012
Julian Assange says he wants to bring liberty back to the centre of Australian politics, using his Senate candidacy to defend free speech and the ”right of citizens … to live their lives free from state interference”.
The WikiLeaks founder also plans to be a ”fierce defender of free media” if elected to the Senate, using parliamentary privilege to break court suppression orders and other ”excessive constraints” on free access to information.
In his first interview since declaring his intention to run for the Senate in the next federal election, Mr Assange said he ”could be described as a libertarian” and nominated Australian Democrats founder Don Chipp and former prime minister Malcolm Fraser as political figures he admired.
Mr Assange declared his priority was to campaign for greater openness in government, what he termed ”the politics of understanding before acting”.
He criticised Australian politics for the ”increasing levels of cronyism” and ”the betrayal of the rights and interests of people … by political insiders, operating in their own interests”.
Mr Assange confirmed to The Age that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s attacks on WikiLeaks, in particular labelling its actions as ”illegal” – contrary to advice from the Australian Federal Police – directly contributed to his decision to embark on a Senate campaign.
WikiLeaks announced last week that Assange had decided to run for the Senate after it discovered that his detention on sexual assault allegations was not an impediment. Read the rest of this entry »
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 – Sherwood Ross
Assange asserts the Pentagon is trying to create a new legal precedent that forbids “a journalist simply asking a source to communicate information.” Read the rest of this entry »
Tony Eastley reported this story on Thursday, February 2, 2012
TONY EASTLEY: Writer John Pilger has been intimately involved in the case. He’s one of a number of prominent people on the Assange Defence Committee.
He’s not banking on a happy outcome from the Supreme Court appeal in London and he says the only other avenue of appeal, via the European Court of human rights, would be unaffordable.
John Pilger claims that the US is working secretly to have Assange extradited, and there’s little hope that the Australian Government will intervene.
John Pilger, good morning. You’re not confident of Julian Assange’s prospects, why?
JOHN PILGER: Because what is happening in London is really only the tip of this iceberg.
If Julian Assange loses this appeal in the Supreme Court and ends up in Sweden he’s very likely to be what they call “temporarily surrendered” to the United States. Sweden and the US have an agreement, not very well known, that somebody like Assange can be sent on to the US. Read the rest of this entry »
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
By IULIA FILIP
WASHINGTON (CN) – A nonprofit government watchdog claims the FBI refuses to release information on “the government’s identification and surveillance of individuals who have demonstrated support for or interest in WikiLeaks.”
The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and National Security Division, and the FBI, in a FOIA complaint in Federal Court. It claims the Justice Department and FBI refuse to disclose a single record of their tracking of people who are sympathetic to WikiLeaks.
EPIC, a public interest research organization, says it based its request for information “on the need for the public to obtain information about government surveillance of individuals exercising the rights to freedom of speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
WikiLeaks, whose website allows anonymous posting of documents to discourage unethical behavior in governments and corporations, published an enormous trove of diplomatic cables concerning U.S. foreign policy in November 2010.
WikiLeaks posted more than 91,000 classified documents about the war in Afghanistan, attracting government scrutiny.
The U.S. government has taken a number of steps to punish the group for this, including pressuring the companies that process online donations to Wikileaks to stop doing so.
“After the November release, the U.S. government opened investigations into WikiLeaks,” the complaint states. “On Nov. 29, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the DOJ initiated an ‘active, ongoing criminal investigation’ into the WikiLeaks release.
“On Dec. 6, 2010, Attorney General Holder said that he authorized ‘significant’ actions related to the WikiLeaks investigation.
“On Nov. 30, 2010, representatives of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee contacted Amazon concerning the company’s hosting of WikiLeaks’ content.
“On Dec. 22, 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency announced that the agency had opened an investigation into WikiLeaks and the November release.”
The U.S. government condemned WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents, calling the leaks “irresponsible.”
EPIC says in its complaint: “In the wake of the November release, the U.S. government attempted to identify users who accessed WikiLeaks’ documents. The federal government also attempted to restrict access to the documents.
“On Nov. 30, 2010, a U.S. State Department employee informed the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University that SIPA students should not ‘post links to [the WikiLeaks] documents, nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter.’
“On Dec. 6, 2010, the State Department acknowledged that it had ‘instructed State Department employees not to access the WikiLeaks site and download posted documents …’
“On Dec. 14, 2010, the U.S. Air Force barred its personnel from accessing WikiLeaks documents.
“On Jan. 18, 2011, The Guardian reported that WikiLeaks called on Facebook and Google to release the contents of any U.S. subpoenas regarding WikiLeaks that they may have received.
“A Jan. 27, 2011 FBI press release stated that the FBI executed more than forty search warrants in the investigation regarding cyber attacks ‘in protest’ of actions of U.S. companies, referring to the activities of WikiLeaks supporters.
“A July 29, 2011 press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California stated that FBI agents arrested sixteen individuals for alleged involvement in a cyber attack against PayPal ‘in retribution for PayPal’s termination of WikiLeaks’ donation account.'” (Brackets and ellipses in complaint).
EPIC asked the Justice Department and the FBI to release their records on surveillance of people who showed support for or interest in WikiLeaks, including agency communications with Facebook, Google, other Internet and social media companies and financial services companies.
Its says the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the FBI improperly withheld records, and the Justice Department’s National Security Division denied its request.
EPIC appealed, but the agencies failed to produce any additional documents.
EPIC claims that the “DOJ had not provided any factual basis for the claim that the withheld documents were actually compiled for law enforcement purposes and that disclosure would interfere with enforcement proceedings.”
EPIC wants to see the records. It is represented by Ginger McCall.
By DJ Pangburn
January 11, 2012 will mark the 400th day of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s house arrest, a court order that arose after an erstwhile Swedish prosecutor decided to re-launch a case against the free information and open government activist for a broken condom. According to Swedish laws, sex with a broken condom is deemed not fully consensual.
Assange by that point, of course, was international public enemy #1 for most of 2010 after WikiLeaks began leaking diplomatic cables to the media, some of which contributed to the Arab Spring, which in turn inspired protests across the world, including Occupy Wall Street. Thus, some viewed it as rather convenient that Assange’s presence was rather suddenly demanded in Sweden at the precise moment when WikiLeaks’ influence in the free and open government movement was at its apogee.
Lead Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny has stated that the arrest warrant was issued because interviews in the case cannot be conducted over the phone or internet; they must be held in person, according to Swedish law. Assange and his legal team have argued that it was an attempt to have him extradited to the United States for prosecution under U.S. espionage laws.
Shortly thereafter, WikiLeaks efforts were severely limited by Amazon, Visa, Mastercard and PayPal refusing service due to the political strong arm tactics from the likes of Senator Joe Lieberman, who was Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
While Assange is scheduled for a two-hour hearing at the UK Supreme Court on February 1st over an “application for permission to appeal,” it is quite clear that Assange’s house arrest has also functioned as a de facto political detainment; that Assange is thus a political detainee, and the lengthy process has largely been successful at tightening a logistical and financial vice grip around WikiLeaks’ free information journalism. Read the rest of this entry »