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Is Julian Assange damaging the Internet?

By Mal Fletcher - posted Monday, 27 August 2012

There is doubtless an important and wide-ranging debate to be had about the relationship between governance and transparency in the age of almost ubiquitous digital media.

Liberal democracies, for example, while preaching transparency struggle more than ever in the digital age to balance public accountability with diplomatic discretion.

However, such a debate, whenever it takes place, must not be allowed to centre around the interests of specific individuals.


Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, tweeted from the stage at the opening of London's Olympics: 'This is for everyone'. He referred to the Games, of course, but this was also a nod to the medium he popularized.

This, it appears, may not have occurred to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and self-proclaimed activist for internet freedoms. He seems perfectly happy to have debates about internet freedoms centre around his personal interests, agenda and somewhat erratic behaviour.

In the process, he poses a potential threat, at least where some governments are concerned, to the very medium he uses to promote his brand of reform.

There are governments aplenty who worry about the growth and pervasiveness of the internet. Some of them would like nothing more than to curb or control its power.

The OpenNet Initiative is an alliance of academic and consultancy bodies set up to investigate internet filtering and surveillance powers worldwide. In 2010 it documented Internet filtering by governments in over 40 countries worldwide.

The Initiative ranks Iran's as the worst government when it comes to using pervasive filters to block online political and social content and personal communications tools.


In China, a police service devoted to filtering the web reportedly consists of at least 30,000 officers.

In July, the Russian parliament introduced bills that create a blacklist of websites deemed unsuitable. The bills, which will become law in November, demand that servers to take these sites down.

In the beginning, the Russian laws will deal mainly with sites carrying images of child abuse and other overtly illegal material. However, dissidents fear that the legislation will soon extend to ban or curtail political criticism.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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