While the Internet isn't new, its original purpose of providing a reliable communications system in the event of catastrophic war has been transformed. Created in the midst of a cold war that was fought through espionage and intelligence agencies, today's world is completely different. In years to come Wikileaks will be seen as a watershed in global politics. Perhaps that's why the governments of today are so intent on closing Assange's organisation down.
Today's world is marked by openness and activism. Even in countries such as Mynamar, China and North Korea information escapes and is shared. That the western world is surprised that it can happen to them is a statement of their blindness to the world around them. People today share far more data about themselves than any generation before. And, more the point, an entire generation is growing up with the expectation that information won't be bound by rules. Openness and freedom of information will be a important principle.
In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stated that the leaks published by Assange over Wikileaks were 'an illegal thing to do'. What crime Assange has committed under Australian law is certainly a mystery. His position on the Interpol 'Most Wanted' list is even more curious. While rape, as ITWire Editor Stan Beer recently said is a 'heinous crime', the charges are still in doubt (read this statement by Assange's counsel) as the issue of consent in the rape case is still questionable. And now, legal opinion is coming forth that says the Prime Minister was clearly out of line. More the point, the Australian government's responsibility is to offer Assange assistance as a citizen facing a serious allegation that seems to be politically rather than legally motivated.
Peter Kemp, Solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW, has summarized this perfectly when he said "Prime Minister why has there been no public complaint to the US about both Secretaries of State Condaleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton being in major breach of International law ie UN Covenants, by making orders to spy on UN personnel, including the Secretary General, to include theft of their credit card details and communication passwords. Perhaps the Attorney General should investigate this clear prima facie evidence of crime (likely against Australian diplomats as well), rather than he attempts to prosecute the messenger of those crimes."
The days of government's being able to control the flow of information aren't gone but they are dying. Consider that Wikileaks released about 250,000 pages of documents. One suspects that that's just a drop in the ocean. In the age of easy information dissemination we shouldn't be surprised when information a government feels they should protect becomes free.