The Wikileaks saga continues to captivate the public imagination. The drama around Assange and his arrest, the fascinating leaks, and the cyberpunk-style internet war that is raging in the background means this is the story that just keeps on giving. And it’s not just geeks that are soaking up the news – it’s everybody. This will have a huge impact on future debates on civil liberties online.
Though Wikileaks has done only what journalists have been doing for time immemorial, the backlash against them – and Julian Assange personally – has been massive. First came the outrage. The vociferous condemnations, encouragements to assassination, the hunt to find a legal pretext to lock him up, all came thick and fast as the latest round of leaks began. Our own Prime Minister was quick to label Wikileaks a criminal organisation, despite no laws being broken or charges filed.
Next came the legal and financial attacks. Web hosts were forced to sever ties with Wikileaks. Politicians in the U.S. put pressure on web hosts and payment processing companies such as Paypal, Mastercard and Visa to stop providing service to Wikileaks and throttle their ability to operate. Even a Swiss Bank cancelled Assange’s bank account because he used his Swiss lawyer’s address instead of his own.
The last phase will be legislative, as embarrassed Governments scramble to make laws that would ensure they can lock somebody up – if not now, then next time. Already, a bill has been introduced into the U.S. Congress that would allow the U.S. Government to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act. Our own government may well be pondering a similar course of action; several times we have been told that they are scouring the law books for something, anything, with which to charge Assange.