Hard to know whether to be pleased or outraged at the arrest of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. There is a distinct whiff of set-up from the criminal charges against him, but only time will tell. Similarly, the recent denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeaks and pressure on Amazon to stop hosting the site look to be state-sponsored. In the meantime, though, the empathy that one might normally feel for a brave fighter against state cynicism and secrecy is badly tarnished by the irresponsibility he has shown in publishing documents with no apparent regard for the safety of people named in them.
The guy seems to have values. According to Wikipedia, his mantra as a hacker in his teems was the laudably ethical: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information”. However, his conviction about his own righteousness in leaking state secrets does seem to have blinded him to the consequences of his own actions. Again according to Wikipedia, he defended accusations by the usual suspects of putting lives at risk by saying “…it’s really quite fantastic that Gates and Mullen…who have ordered assassinations every day, are trying to bring people on board to look at a speculative understanding of whether we might have blood on our hands. These two men arguably are wading in the blood from those wars.” That really doesn’t seem a convincing argument.
Here’s wishing Assange a fair trial if it comes to that, and hoping that WikiLeaks is able to continue to operate and even to prosper. We hope also, though, for a more mature approach to the rights of the individuals whose identities are contained in leaked documents. Exposing government secrecy and undermining the complacency and cynicism of those who perpetrate such things is a very valuable function. But let’s not trample all over the rights of the little guy in the process.