WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Answers Questions About His New Book on Reddit

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (R) speaks as Ecuador's Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patino listens, during a news conference at the Ecuadorian embassy in central London August 18, 2014 John Stillwell/pool/Reuters

Julian Assange, the co-creator of WikiLeaks, answered questions about his new book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, as part of an "Ask Me Anything" event on Reddit yesterday. The book tells the story of Assange's meeting with Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google. Most of the questions concerned cyber-security, but, Reddit being Reddit, #GamerGate came up. Here are the highlights:

Julian Assange is Not a Fan of the Film About Him

It is an interesting experience having a $60m attack on your reputation distributed by Disney. It even had a scene in it showing us helping the Iranians explode a nuke until we leaked the script and attacked the producers. The audience could see it was not well intentioned and turned against it.

Bias in the Media Is OK, as Long as It's Balanced... or Something?

Form follows funding (and cultural bias). All news sources other than archives like https://search.wikileaks.org/ have an intent to influence the audience. The key is to understand the bias and then try and cancel it with a bias working in the opposite direction.

Google: Agents of the U.S. Government

Google can certainly do something better to fight privacy violations and protect their users. For instance, in the book, you'll see that I asked Eric Schmidt to leak secret government requests to WikiLeaks. He refused. On a larger scale, companies like Google have a lot more heft than, say, Lavabit. Imagine Google had engaged in the kind of resistance to a government order that Ladar Levison engaged in. Google's population is gigantic. That would be a serious challenge to the US government. But you won't see that happen, because - as I argue in the book - Google is too close to the government.

But in a wider sense, I think it is misguided to be looking to Google to help get us out of this mess. In large part, Google has us in this mess. The company's business model is based on sucking private data out of parts of human community that have never before been subject to monitoring, and turning that into a profit. I do not think it is wise to try to "reform" something which, from first premises, is beyond reform.

ISIS: Not A Big Deal. Mass Surveillance: A Big Deal

Firstly, people who argue that ISIS poses a threat to our democracies are out to lunch. ISIS is an ugly phenomenon, but it's largely the consequence of one blunder after another by the US and its allies in the region, who shouldn't have been meddling there in the first place. If ISIS poses a threat to anyone, it is to countries in the region, and they are the appropriate parties to address it. If the US and its allies want to reduce "terror" in the region - as Noam Chomsky says - they need to stop participating in it.

The US and the UK, etc, have no business in the region, so the idea that they need to gather intelligence there is wrong, never mind the idea that they need to do it through mass surveillance, as opposed to targeted surveillance. Remember, mass surveillance means targeting everyone, not just the people who are identified as a threat. Mass surveillance provides little advantage against something like ISIS. They can be surveilled through normal targeted surveillence methods, without the need to scoop up every innocent person's communications with it. And ISIS likely has accomplished opsec and infosec, so, again, mass surveillance disproportionately affects innocents, and provides little advantage.

In the meantime, a real threat to democracies is the erosion of civil liberties that is brought about by mass surveillance.

Not a Fan of "Censorship" on Facebook and Twitter

It's pathetic. But censorship by companies controlling privatized political space is now almost a norm. Facebook is implementing its own "laws" for social behavior and politics. Even Twitter has now folded; censoring for example, leaks about the New Zealand prime minister just this week and some time ago banning Anonymous Sweden after a request from that country. High volume publication+control of publication by powerful organisations = censorship, all the time. We have to fight to create new networks of freedom. The old and powerful always become corrupt.

Bitcoin Is Very Important... Somehow

Bitcoin is an extremely important innovation, but not in the way most people think. Bitcoin's real innovation is a globally verifiable proof publishing at a certain time. The whole system is built on that concept and many other systems can also be built on it. The blockchain nails down history, breaking Orwell's dictum of "He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future.

Satoshi Nakamoto Asked Assange Not to Entangle WikiLeaks with Bitcoin

On 5 December 2010, just after VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, Amazon, and other financial companies started denying service to WikiLeaks, a debate broke out on the official web forum for Bitcoin about the risk that donations to WikiLeaks using Bitcoin could provoke unwanted government interest in the then nascent crypto-currency. “Basically, bring it on,” wrote one poster. “Satoshi Nakamoto,” the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin, responded: “No, don’t ‘bring it on.’ The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way. I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.” See the post on the Bitcoin Forum: archive.today/Gvonb#msg26999. Six days later, on 12 December 2010, Satoshi famously vanished from the Bitcoin community, but not before posting this message: “It would have been nice to get this attention in any other context. WikiLeaks has kicked the hornet’s nest, and the swarm is headed towards us.” See the post on the Bitcoin Forum: archive.today/XuHCD#selection-1803.0-1802.1. WikiLeaks read and agreed with Satoshi’s analysis, and decided to put off the launch of a Bitcoin donation channel until the currency had become more established. WikiLeaks’ Bitcoin donation address was launched after the currency’s first major boom, on 14 June 2011.

Facial Recognition Technology Like Hitler's Willing Executioners?

I once gave a talk in 2012, to a group of horrified CIOs in the Netherlands, about the advance of face recognition technology. There was a guy on before me from a company that specialized in it, and he was rehearsing his product's features and capabilities without any apparent awareness of the political dimensions of the technology he was discussing. When I came on, I had had a talk prepared in my head, but spontaneously I gave over a significant part of the start of the talk to this subject. I said that sysadmins, and CIOs, needed to think carefully about the political implications of their roles in the organizations they were in, or they risked being like "Hitler's willing executioners." That's where I stand.