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Classify This

1 December, 2010 (13:19) | Media, Politics

Snagged from CBS.

In the midst of the Wikileaks controversy, founder Julian Assange is under assault by international governments everywhere. Yesterday, Interpol issued a warrant for his arrest for sex crimes in Sweden.

With the flurry of news regarding Wikileaks, it’s not hard to believe Assange’s claims of being unfairly targeted. Wired reports that the allegations of rape against Assange stem from interactions with two women that began as consensual, but became non-consensual. Assange and his lawyer claim that Assange offered to cooperate while he was in Sweden and was willing to answer questions remotely from his hideout in England. Assange’s attorney, Mark Stephens, wrote, “Pursuing a warrant in this circumstance is entirely unnecessary and disproportionate.”

The US, meanwhile, is exploring charging Assange under the Espionage Act.

At the root of the issue is the mass of data Assange and his cohorts have released, including a glut of US documents that may or may not have been improperly classified. While the revelations enclosed are hardly mind blowing, the close control the US government has had in the past is seriously breaking down.

In my opinion, this is a good thing.

Despite the Freedom of Information Act and the continuing declassification of documents by the government, the people of the United States remain in the dark far more than we should. Bureaucratic hoops are aligned in such a way as to discourage even the most basic of requests. While the senate and house constantly bicker about needing more accountability, no one seems to be providing enough information for that accountability to happen.

As a first ammendment absolutist, I applaud Wikileaks releases and hope they continue. In 1984, Stewart Brand said, “information wants to be free.” While this isn’t exactly true, it’s getting more an more difficult to prevent information from escaping its recorded boundaries and finding its way to the internet.

On October 3rd, Newsweek published an article about the rise of Google’s Android operating system. Hidden in this article midway down the second page was a futurist theory about the propagation of mobile internet devices:

So what happens when most of the residents of planet Earth carry a device that gives them instant access to pretty much all of the world’s information? The implications–for politics, for education, for global economics–are dizzying. In theory, the mobile revolution could enable citizens to demand greater openness and accountability from their governments.

This is a laudable goal, and one I’d be anxious for, were it not for one very important point the article ignored: the cost of smart phones, though dropping, and of the services required for full functionality are simply outside the financial abilities of the poorer members of the general population.

For an information revolution to arise, we have to find a way to lower the cost of access, reduce the control of media conglomerates like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, and make the internet not simply common, but necessary.

There’s a certain irony that my plea will only be heard by the tech-enabled. After all, my call of tech equality is neither feasible nor desired by the capitalist society now in place. Whether it’s Wikileaks or Reddit or the Huffington Post, internet media can only be successful with access, and that access isn’t universal.

In the next few months, Assange will either thrive or be arrested. Conspiracy theorists everywhere will be buzzing with misinformation and bad ideas regardless of outcome.

Assange’s Wikileaks may be wreaking havoc in Washington, but until access to that information is universal only the privileged will see most of it.