20 June 2012
Last night I took part in discussions on Twitter about Julian Assange with various people including @ggreenwald, @jamesrbuk and @rosiemkane. It could have become very messy, but didn't. Late on, I had this exchange.
I'm aware this makes me look like a deluded, paranoid conspiracy theorist, but looking at it this morning it does accurately sum up my views. I'm also aware that I may over-compensate for Julian Assange at times - I'm prepared to consider (as pointed out last night by @rachelmack) that I may be wrong in saying the allegations against him in Sweden don't quite amount to rape. *
If you haven't switched off yet, I'd like to take a few short paragraphs to explain why I believe what I do, and why I support JA.
I spent a few years in the late 80's working in South Africa, with a ringside seat to watch the death throes of apartheid. I learnt that apartheid was originally concieved as a system to allow Afrikaaners to live in their own communities, with their own language, schools and churches, and marrying within their own Volk. And other racial groupings would do the same. A bit strange in our multi-cultural world, but not intrinsically evil. However, like communism, the system failed at the first hurdle - the moment you add human beings, with their greed and self-interest, the system becomes corrupted. In South Africa's case, a minority quickly dominated the majority, then spent decades committing horrific crimes to maintain their power, whilst the majority had no democratic way to change things. This all helped to confirm the first part of my argument.
All political systems will be abused - no exceptions.
(As an aside, I did once try to put forward my argument that apartheid was not intrinsically evil at a drunken party. Word of advice - don't ever do that, there's no way you won't end up being seen as a paid up member of the BNP!)
I first became frightened of Facebook a couple of years ago, when I realised that on my profile I was being shown lots of hair transplant adverts, but my less folically challenged friends weren't. Facebook's photo tagging system had recognised that I had a lot more forehead than most. If any of us knew just how much information 'the internet' knows about us, we'd be horrified. For instance, German researchers recently found they could determine which TV channel you are watching from the information collected by electricity smart meters. The problem is that governments increasingly have access to that kind of data, are collating it and developing tools to analyse it. In 2011 Google had 35,000 requests from governments for personal information about it's users. The UK is currently drawing up a law requiring ISPs to hold data about all electronic communications for goverment purposes. Government monitoring systems will gain much more computing power and become much more interconnected and pervasive, and we can expect their ability to analyse information about us to increase in line with Moore's law.
Those in power will soon have access to vast amounts of current data about you.
It seems to be the default view of governments that information they hold should be kept secret unless there is good reason to make it public, rather than the reverse. The US Govt is believed to have over 1 trillion classified documents, the exact number is classified. I'm not picking on the US by the way, I've no doubt that China, Russia, India and the EU can comfortably match them.
Those in power are working hard to avoid you knowing what they're doing.
My conclusion to this is that in the near future, those entrenched in power will know everything about you, you'll know nothing about them, and they will abuse this. As in apartheid, you will have no democratic way to change this.
This depressing world view is one I've held for many years - then I read one of the most insightful ideas I'd ever come across, written by one Julian Assange. As shorthand we can call it the Secrecy Tax. His simple idea is as follows:
- Secrecy is expensive. At least $10 billion for the US alone in 2009
- Open governments with few secrets will be cheaper and more efficient, and therefore able to out-compete secretive governments.
That's where WikiLeaks, Anonymous and other 'organisations' come in. The more expensive it is to keep things secret, the more governments will voluntarily opt not to keep them. That's not to say I agree with everything WL etc do, but I do believe it's essential they exist. WikiLeaks 'opens governments', not by publishing all their secrets, but by making it better not to have secrets in the first place.
So if I err on supporting Julian Assange too much, it's because he gave me a little hope that the world my great-grandchildren live in might be open and free rather than closed and tyrannical.
No idea why he decided to go to the Ecuadorian embassy though - can't see the plus side at all.
* whether the allegations amount to rape or not, bear in mind that they are only allegations, and Julian Assange denies them.