Sunday, December 5, 2010

Musings: "Privatization of State Censorship"

I’ve been following with dismay and alarm the many attempts to silence Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, apparently by those who would rather kill the messenger than deal with the messages he delivers. This has included people like Sarah Palin saying he should be hunted down like the al-Qaeda leadership and other Republicans calling for his assassination.

Equally disturbing was Democracy Now’s report on the totalitarian response of the State Department, which issued an order barring employees from reading the cables and sent an email to students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs that says:

"The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. [The State Department] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

As a result of these threats, Assange has reportedly distributed “an encrypted 'poison pill' of damaging secrets, thought to include details on BP and Guantanamo Bay” as insurance against his possible death, arrest or the permanent removal of his website from the Internet, according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

Unfortunately, the government’s heavy-handed tactics to silence Assange wouldn’t get far without help from Internet corporate giants. So when I read that Amazon had stopped serving WikiLeaks — although not, Amazon claims, due to pressure from Sen. Joseph Lieberman, but because WikiLeaks supposedly had violated its terms of service,— I vowed to never again buy anything through Amazon.

Then I read this morning that PayPal had shut down the account used in WikiLeaks' fundraising efforts, also supposedly due to violations of its use policy:

"PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by Wikileaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We've notified the account holder of this action," PayPal said in a blog post on Friday.

That was especially distressing news because PayPay is owned by eBay, which was founded by Pierre Omiyadar, who founded and is actively involved in Honolulu Civil Beat, a local reporting site that recently stated in one of its posts:

[P]ublic records are the backbone of a lot of what we do at Civil Beat.

Requesting the records, and then sharing what we learn from them with our members is a big part of our effort to bring transparency to how we spend government funds.

What WikiLeaks published are indeed public records. It’s just that governments around the world want to keep them secret because they expose so many of their nasty lies and dirty deeds, like mass killings of civilians in Yemen, storing banned cluster bombs in Britain, CIA-directed spying on U.N. diplomats and secret U.S. military special operations forces in Pakistan, to name just a very few.

Don’t you think these are things we have a right to know? Especially since such activities are funded with taxpayer dollars?

As attorney and writer Glenn Greenwald noted in a Democracy Now! debate about Assange and Wikikleaks:

There is nobody close to that organization in terms of shining light of what the world’s most powerful factions are doing and in subverting the secrecy regime that is used to spawn all sorts of evils.

And WikiLeaks is really one of the very few, if not the only group, effectively putting fear into the hearts of the world’s most powerful and corrupt people, and that’s why they deserve, I think, enthusiastic support from anyone who truly believes in transparency, notwithstanding what might be valid, though relatively trivial, criticisms that Mr. [Steven] Aftergood and a couple of others have been voicing.

And I got to wondering, given PayPal’s stance on WikiLeaks, what would Pierre Omiyadar’s Civil Beat staff do if it were given a batch of government documents that needed to see the light of day? Sit on them until it got permission to use them? Shelve them because they were just too hot to handle? Publish them and risk their relationship with PayPal, which provides its on-line subscription service?

In good conscience, all I could do was determine to never again use PayPal, unless and until it changes its stance on WikiLeaks. I've never even been inclined to visit eBay, so no big loss there. Boycotting PayPal also required me to cancel my subscription to Civil Beat, but since my CB subscription doesn't run out until Dec. 9, I hope to see Editor John Temple address this issue.

There’s a lot at stake here, though the brain dead/TV-fed American public has little clue. It’s what Assange has termed the “privatization of state censorship.” As a CNN opinion piece noted:

What is troubling and dangerous is that in the internet age, public discourse increasingly depends on digital spaces created, owned and operated by private companies. The result is that one politician has more power than ever to shut down controversial speech unilaterally with one phone call.

And as Assange’s London attorney, Mark Stephens noted, also in the Daily Mail:

This is all about a man who is a journalist. He received, unbidden, an electronic brown envelope that journalists receive.
'This particular journalist has put it out. What they are doing is criminalising him, criminalising journalistic activity.'

On my last post about Wikileaks, someone left a comment that aptly summed up the issue:

The thing I find amazing is that our country has 3 million security cleared ass kissers who are willing to read and know what's in these cables and do nothing about it.

And therein lies the real challenge of these leaked cables, they challenge the American ethic to do the right thing, if enough of us remember what that should be.

In America, our greatest power lies not in our vote, but our spending habits. The question for consumers now is, do you really want to support corporations that are willing to restrict journalistic endeavors, transparency and free speech, especially due to political pressure?


Anonymous said...

Play with fire, get burned!

Anonymous said...

Wikileaks is showing all that our governing/corporate bodies we have a nasty mole on our ass. This is a test for us all to see if we can look straight at it, which makes some uncomfortable. If we cover it up, like China stifling Google, then we will not be aware when it becomes malignant. Early detection is important; thus we need to support Wikileaks. How can we communicate that to Amazon, Paypal, a fearful government population? Cannot just shun them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Joan: I am a long time supporter of your blog. I agree with you 99% of the time. This time, I don't. There are some things that should NOT be released & should remain secret for a while i.e., 99 years or whatever. Some of this information is just too sensitive. It will put lives at risk and may damage peaceful efforts. Aloha.

Anonymous said...

One either sees this Wikileaks thing as bad, a criminal action, or good, as something long overdo, bringing more of what is done in the corridors of gov. into the light of day. A very interesting and telling polarization to say the least.
Mole, (Anon 10:55) isn't that what a hidden or clandestine spy in gov. or the corporate world is called. I for one say keep up the good work Mr. Assange, a real hero in this world where the truth seems to always take a back seat to lies and deceit.

Anonymous said...

Just imagine how different this world would be if ALL of the workings of the gov. were done out in the open.
I would venture to say that 99.9% of all that is so messed up in this world, and there is a lot, the economy, the endless wars, the endless imbalance of the haves (few) and the have nots (many) is only possible because there is secrecy and darkened back room deals. If there are some lives at risk...... well, there's always collateral damage as the war mongers are so fond of saying. There couldn't be near the numbers of casualties in this "one man's war (Assange)" though and just might be the war to really end all wars.

Anonymous said...

Of course it's a bad thing....... for some. It makes me laugh to think of how many are running around like Chicken Little yelling "the sky is falling, the sky is falling" at the same time as they're trying to cover their dirty little hides

Anonymous said...

Wikileaks is the greatest thing to happen to freedom ever. They may stop Julian but they can't stop the Wikileaks concept.

Thanks Joan

Anonymous said...

"Play with fire, get burned!"

Teach a man to build a fire and he is warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for a lifetime. Wikileaks is setting the entire world on fire, and warming my heart. Thx Joan

Anonymous said...

Those docs are not "public documents" unless and until they are declassified.

Governments require secrecy in much of their operations.

Wikileaks should be shut down and its principals prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

Why do I keep thinking that Wikileaks is a sham - set up by the government ... to dupe us ...

Anonymous said...

"Those docs are not "public documents" unless and until they are declassified."

You just keep following orders and please don't question the hundreds of thousands of documents classified secret that aren't.