…even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.
During his visit to China in November, for example, President Obama held a town hall meeting with an online component to highlight the importance of the internet… he defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable… The United States belief in that ground truth is what brings me here today.”
Believe it or not, those are excerpts from the speech Hilary Clinton, the US secretary of State made when it was alleged that Google was attacked by China. But as things are now, the US government is trying to wipe out Wikileaks off the face of the web. They got Amazon to stop its hosting, PayPal to close its accounts and OpenDNS to yank it (no pun intended) off the web among other assaults on their operations.
The US government’s argument is that WikiLeaks is releasing information that compromises America’s national security.
I agree that some of the information being leaked this time is mere gossip but not all of it is trivial. Is the American government trying to say that the Afghans should not know their VP was caught smuggling $52million in cash from their country? And that of course the Americans did nothing about it.
The American government’s aggressive reaction to Wikileaks raises certain questions about its double standard with regards to its official stance on China’s suppression of free speech.
America is practically declaring a war on Assange for disseminating classified information they don’t want out. China has also often defended its censoring of the internet on the basis of dissident’s perceived threat to their national security. Now although I am still not a fan of China’s censoring of websites (especially as I cannot communicate with my Chinese classmates who have returned home), but after this episode, one must ask, what moral right does the US have in telling China not to censor its citizens when they are doing the exact same thing? The same logic applies to condemnations of censorship of pro democracy activists in Iran and other countries who have restricted access to information on the web. Hence, this skirmish over Wikileaks has led America to loose all moral standing in spreading democracy and freedom of speech around the world. Hu Jintao of China and co can now use this incident to “talk back” to America when it preaches about democracy and internet censorship. After all, National security permits you to justify any action.
I think that war has been lost by America. The war of spreading democracy and free speech.
Another important question the US’ concerted effort at shutting down wikileaks raises is on America’s control of the internet. This episode shows that America owns the web and other countries will do well to do something about it because although this war is not between two nations, control of the web might be the basis for wars in the future.
Let us take a little scenario:
The year is 2020 and the US declares Nigeria an enemy state for whatever reason and we decide to go to war.
Immediately, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google pull all email and communication plugs used by Nigerians and in Nigeria; PayPal,Visa etc pause all financial transactions to and within Nigeria; Facebook and Twitter mute all mention of Nigeria and all root servers supporting all our websites are uprooted. The war will be over in 4 steps without even firing a single shot. Nigeria will immediately be completely decapitated. Perhaps, the message of surrender will be sent via BBM (thankfully Canadian owned) within the hour.
I have often argued that it is dangerous for any country to wield absolute power on the web. It will be abused as it is now. I think it is in the interest of national security of countries that they have alternatives to various web technology backbones. In the world today, only China can withstand the US in my above hypothesis and they are aggressively ensuring they maintain that competitive advantage.
As for the concerted effort at silencing Wikileaks, I am guessing Twitter and Facebook will be the next to strike their blows. Update: Twitter might already be censoring wikileaks.. Soon enough Google might cave in and then wikileaks and Julian Assange will be relegated to cached internet memory. Or not.
I am certain after this episode, the internet will never be the same again. Time to kiss net neutrality and the free open web goodbye!
Assange, when are you releasing the cables from my dear country Nigeria.?
Thanks Iyinoluwa for helping me edit this post.
Update 2: I just realised that WikiLeaks has not been cached by Archive.org since ‘08. When US was not yet on their radar.