Could WikiLeaks Lead to Internet Censorship?
10th December 2010 by Simon Malone
The secret US government cables released by WikiLeaks have created a great deal of anger and embarrassment in the USA and across the world. Documents from the site have provided the public with a huge range of sensitive information. They include one US embassy labelling China as an “aggressive economic competitor with no morals” and another calling Afghanistan’s President Karzai as “a weak individual”. Closer to home another document revealed that in 2008 the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, threatened “enormous repercussions” for the UK-Libyan relationship if the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was not released. (Quotes taken from BBC article)
Following the release of these cables members of the US government were quick to condemn the site. Republican Representative Peter King described the release of the documents as “terrorism” and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton labelled it as “an attack against the international community”. On the 1st December Senator Joe Liberman, Chairman of the Senate’s committee on Homeland Security, called for WikiLeaks to be taken offline. “I call on any other company or organisation that is hosting WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them. WikiLeaks reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world”. (Quotes taken from The Guardian article)
Days after this statement was released major internet and online banking organisations removed their support for the WikiLeaks site. TECH Amazon removed WikiLeaks' content from its cloud server and the wikileaks.org site failed after EveryDNS removed its free routing service for the site. Soon after PAYPAL, MasterCard and Visa all blocked their customers from making financial donations to the website.
I believe the speed at which political pressure has led to co-ordinated attempts to censor the site is very worrying. If this were a site that was clearly distributing illegal content, such as inappropriate pictures of children, then I am sure the public would support these actions. The reality of the situation to date is that the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has been charged with nothing in relation to these leaks. No arrest warrant, no court orders, nothing. His site has been targeted because in the words of Senator Joe Lieberman “the WikiLeaks data dump has jeopardised US national interests” (Quotes taken from TechDirt.com). This reaction seems to be setting a very alarming precedent that websites and other information sources in the future may be removed if they are guilty of providing information that is not convenient to the United States. The term for this form of action is censorship.
In 2009 President Obama made a visit to China at a time when the Chinese leadership was trying to enforce censorship on certain content found on the Google site in their country. President Obama proudly stated “I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free internet – or unrestricted internet access – is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.” (Quote taken from The Telegraph article)
A year on and the policy of unrestricted internet access seems to have changed somewhat.
Whether you agree with the information distributed by WikiLeaks or not, the fact a national government is going out of its way to deny freedom of speech and information on the internet should be of concern to all of us. I believe one of the internet’s greatest attributes is the way it enables people to share information content with other people all over the world. Every day millions of people across the world use Facebook, YouTube, Skype and millions of blog sites to share ideas, thoughts, views and information with each other and without interference. This debate has gone beyond the distribution of confidential documents and has evolved into a greater argument of censorship and government control over the internet. I for one hope that regardless of what happens to WikiLeaks, the future of the internet remains free and unrestricted. If that freedom is in any way taken away or lost it is something I believe we will all suffer for in the future.
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