8 Dec 2010

No better than China?

The Nobel Committee selected the right man for the Peace Prize when they chose Liu Xiaobo. The anger triggered in official Beijing over the award indicates they hit the spot. Tate Modern hit the spot when they selected the delightful Chinese artist al-Wei-Wei and his remarkable birdseed show to grace the Turbine Hall. Official Washington, Whitehall and beyond, have complained about the detention of both men. The US and UK governments have loudly accepted their invitations to the Peace ceremony this Friday in Oslo. Whilst a cast of states, with dubious records on human rights themselves, led by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have responded to China’s request not to attend.

Imagine then that a 22-year-old Russian army Private manages to download all that country’s diplomatic secrets onto a memory stick and circulates it to WikiLeaks and assorted media outlets. Or a 22-year-old Chinese Private does the same thing. In both cases the Private would be threatened with the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Contrast the treatment of 22-year-old US Private Bradley Manning whose own downloading of US documents has secured for him – you’ve guessed it, threats of the death penalty and life in prison. But then consider: would the US or the UK move against an organisation that disseminated this Russian or Chinese stuff find his bank and publishing facilities shut down, and assorted states going after him for assorted crimes?

We all know that if Chinese or Russian secrets spilled onto the internet, Western governments and corporations would be laughing up their sleeves – not least if it were discovered that the Chinese or Russian governments maintained a ‘secret’ database to which they allowed three million officials access.

Do I smell hypocrisy in the air? The original grotesque error committed in the WikiLeaks affair was to establish a secret filing system that allowed three million people access. No one disputes that diplomats and others have sensitive traffic they need to keep secret. Why on earth were so many people allowed access to it?

And so we arrive at a week in which some of the most influential players on the web – VISA, Mastercard, PayPal, Amazon, eBay give the impression of acting in a co-ordinated cyber attack on WikiLeaks. In the same 36 hour period they are joined by a Swiss bank which closes down the bank account of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This as influential voices in the United States and Canada call for his assassination and for the death penalty.

So we arrive In Sweden, and in a Magistrate’s court in London. Yesterday’s Daily Mail report from Sweden reporting of the case against Assange is worth reading. Lawyers who were in yesterday’s court hearing tell me the presiding magistrate had decided to refuse bail before anyone entered the court. One of the three grounds upon which he refused bail – that Assange’s entry into he UK had not been registered is curious. I spoke last night to a good friend of mine inside the Border Agency. She told me that there is no fully comprehensive record of non-EU nationals either entering or leaving Britain. She added that white males entering on either US or Australian passports are likely to attract the least interest.

Are we then standing idly by whilst a ‘coming together’ of corporate and national interests seeks to deny the citizenry the product of administrative incompetence? Does any of it amount to a conspiracy? Is it all just a coincidence? Is Julian Assange to be martyred on the high altar of cant or of corporate and national self interest? What is hard to imagine is that we are happily entering the departure lounge of the freedoms afforded by the organic anarchy that is the internet.

One last thought – if they can move so comprehensively against WikiLeaks why don’t they do so against porn sites that still drive so much of the web’s business?

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