WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tells Hasan Suroor in an interview that people cannot really remain anonymous today, even if they use the right tools on the Internet.
What was your first reaction to the Snowden revelations? Were you surprised?
The revelations are a breakthrough in the war we have been fighting to expose what I called last year “the coming surveillance dystopia.” Because of the nature of its work WikiLeaks has known about many of the activities of the National Security Agency but the Snowden revelations show clear and current proof of the worst aspects of this dangerous new surveillance regime.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers in 1971 revealing how the American public was misled over the Vietnam war, has described the Snowden leak as the most important in American history — even more important than the Pentagon papers. Do you agree? If so, in what way do you measure its importance?
I agree it is the most important in relation to the United States. America stands at the precipice of “turnkey totalitarianism” where the most dangerous elements of a neo-garrison state have been constructed. However, the release of the WikiLeaks cables was of greater global importance because it involved every major issue in nearly every country.
In what ways can people safeguard their online privacy in the face of such wholesale invasion of their personal information by the State?
It is now extremely difficult to be a completely private person; to not be swept up into some component of the U.S. global surveillance regime. For example, even if you are careful to use anonymisation tools, such as Tor or the anonymous operating system Tails, there is still the problem that all your friends, family and colleagues have been transformed into unwitting informants as they discuss their interactions with you on Facebook, email, SMS, Skype and so on.
You have said that WikiLeaks revelations inspired the Arab Spring. But do you fear that the actions of the kind revealed by Snowden might have a chilling effect on popular uprisings in future?
This chill was already known in the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Pamphlets distributed by activists in the Egyptian revolution began and ended with ‘Protect yourself; do not use Facebook or twitter’ because of previous round-ups. What pervasive surveillance means is that if you start a revolution you must be sure to win it.
Are his actions likely to encourage more whistleblowers to come forward?
Bradley Manning’s trial began on Monday last week, three years after he was arrested. The United States Department of Justice has admitted that its even larger investigation into WikiLeaks and myself continues. Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, Edward Snowden has stood forward to reveal the truth about where our world is heading and the courageous journalists, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, have joined his courage and conviction. The same disgraceful attacks that we saw against Bradley Manning we now see against Edward Snowden. Political attacks and attacks on character. Similarly, the same type of de-legitimising smears that we saw against me are now hitting the journalists Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras.