Monthly Archives: August 2012

Seven things it’s worth remembering about Wikileaks

Before its inglorious founder takes it down with him or before it’s chased off the Internet by enraged governments, it’s worth remembering what Wikileaks was before it became a cause celebre:

  1. It used to be a wiki. It stopped being a wiki in 2010.
  2. It was an anonymous drop-box. Whistleblowers could deposit documents without fear of being identified. This was the radical core of Wikileaks. They say that submissions are still accepted but the drop-box was switched off in 2010 too.
  3. It was about using the Internet’s open, peer-to-peer, symmetric-in-all-directions architecture to return power to ordinary people inside dumb corporations and repressive regimes. The kind of thing we always said the Internet was for. But it was also anarchic and unaccountable. It made free speech advocates and netheads queasy.
  4. There was something glamorous and edgy about it. It was morally complicated, like a le CarrĂ© plot. All those secrets and their forced disclosure, the chaos and panic that their untimely release caused, the attacks from government black-hats, the comicbook torrent of documents fired in its direction. And whatever you think of Assange – hero, demagogue, victim, criminal – he’ll be an important figure when the histories of the first decades of the Internet era are written.
  5. It became home to documents removed from the public record by courts or governments. It claimed a status above national law and essentially demolished the super-injunction and the cosy media blackout. This was bound to make it of interest to lawyers and governments right from the start.
  6. It was run by a maverick and his mates, so governance and accountability looked weak. Wikileaks contained the seeds of the Assange meltdown from the beginning. We could have anticipated all this (maybe not the Ecuadorian embassy balcony bit).
  7. It was a trial-run for a full-on infowar, for authority’s fight-back against the unruly net. Payment processors, service providers, media partners and sponsors all came under huge pressure and mostly buckled. The net’s apparently ungovernable, distributed, supra-national structure turned out to provide hardly any protection at all. We learn that a determined state supported by compliant corporations can damage or destroy an outlaw entity like Wikileaks. That’s an important lesson for you cyberpunks. You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

(update, 22 August, I collapsed the eight things into seven.)

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

The Pussy Riot case is an affront to humanity, a miserable, dispiriting state-sponsored kicking for three angry free spirits. It’s so depressingly like the kind of relentless, malevolent crucifiction handed out to non-compliant creative people across the decades of Soviet rule it’s as if the country has lost its memory (Hari Kunzru has a post about the absurdity of Pussy Riot’s persecution on his blog).

If they were poets instead of punks, a well-organised international boycott would by now be in place. PEN International would have organised a conference and a letter signed by hundreds – including a dozen Nobel laureates – would already have been delivered to the Kremlin (PEN has already taken up the case, of course).

International musicians should boycott Russia. They shouldn’t go there and they shouldn’t permit Russian releases of their work. They should do this for Pussy Riot and on behalf of their Russian peers who can only provide a cryptic, compromised, Sovietised response to this nastiness.

A letter from every major musician on the planet – from Barenboim to Gaga to Jagger – should already have been lodged with the Russian government. Advertisements in national newspapers should announce the action. There should be a hashtag. Record labels and promoters should join in. Individual musicians are angry about the persecution of Pussy Riot – speaking out, putting on protest gigs and benefits. But does the music business have the guts and imagination to act? Or are they too greedy and venal to take on Putin’s bullies?