Conservatives Concerned With Free Speech Should Worry About WikiLeaks

Most readers are well aware of the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks and its passionate founder Julian Assange. WikiLeaks was responsible for much of the leaks of damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

WikiLeaks has an extensive history of publishing sensitive material and documents that criminals, political figures and governments would often prefer not be made public. As such, Assange has made many enemies and currently is living in self-imposed confinement in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as this is one of the only places he’s safe from efforts to extradite him for crimes various governments have accused him of.

In the meantime, WikiLeaks has continued to publish information that has exposed and/or embarrassed entities such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Pentagon and any number of other governmental agencies, departments and cabinet members. It’s safe to say that along with Edward Snowden and the recently pardoned Chelsea Manning, Assange is high on the list of people that certain high-ranking U.S. officials and former officials would like to see imprisoned or even executed.

On the other hand, for many ordinary citizens, WikiLeaks’ exposures and revelations have been nothing less than courageous and historic, helping to “level the playing field” between voters and candidates and governments and their subjects. Assange has helped to reveal the ugly truth that in a lot of cases has shown people what’s really going on in military operations and federal actions that are being performed in our name with our tax dollars.

He’s helped prove to us how corrupt and untrustworthy the government and its various departments can be. And he’s denuded globalists in ways that couldn’t have been possible decades ago. Essentially, most Americans should be thankful that Assange has revealed all of the information he’s made public.

Of course, there are those who believe that in some cases, Assange may have put lives of foreign agents at risk or caused certain people to be prosecuted or imprisoned. But overall, one has to really ask what the service is that WikiLeaks is performing.

There’s a modern adage coined by writer Stewart Brand that says, “Information wants to be free” — meaning that information in itself, especially when it becomes digital, tends to be distributed far and widely in ways that may not have always been anticipated by its creators. The ideas of confidentiality, “sandboxing” or copyrighting can still apply to digital information, but the form of this information by its nature encourages wide and open distribution rather than discouraging it.

WikiLeaks’ stated slogan is “We Open Governments”; it believes firmly that its purpose in life is to serve the common good.

The administration of President Trump has had a love/hate relationship with WikiLeaks, with the president tweeting “I love WikiLeaks!” as recently as October of 2016 when the organization revealed damaging information about Clinton and John Podesta. But when questioned about whether he could foresee pardoning Assange or guaranteeing him freedom from prosecution by the U.S. or its allies, Trump has demurred.

Trump’s appointed Director of the CIA Mike Pompeo (who during Trump’s campaign pointed people to DNC emails leaked by WikiLeaks, which he referred to by name) has stated that “no one has the right to engage in the theft of secrets from America.” It hasn’t helped that since then, WikiLeaks has posted “Vault 7” leaks about CIA hacking tools and methods.

Now, as of April of this year, Pompeo has gotten the Senate Intelligence Committee in its 2018 intelligence reauthorization bill to declare that WikiLeaks is a “non-state hostile intelligence service” that is “often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.” In defining WikiLeaks this way, the intelligence community may eventually be able to legitimately attack it and deny access to it by U.S. citizens and/or those living abroad. In essence, the CIA and other intelligence agencies could be poised to censor WikiLeaks and effectively shut it down permanently. This would have extremely chilling effects on the concept of free speech online.

One doesn’t have to think too hard to see that traveling further down this road is a way to quickly enter the world of “Big Brother” from the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell. If WikiLeaks could be shut down, any other entity publishing information that the government or globalists or foreign regimes don’t want made public could also be subject to censorship and/or shuttering. Very rapidly, the government and/or influential individuals could have nearly unlimited power over what citizens could see, read and access.

This is the exact opposite of a free society that has the rights of freedom of expression that are defined in our Constitution. One has to go back to the issue of what WikiLeaks is doing to see where the folly of this exercise lies.

WikiLeaks is not a clandestine espionage organization; it’s not engaged in spying, military action or statecraft; it’s merely a publisher of information that puts documents and data online. As such, it cannot be responsible for what people then do with that information. If one doesn’t want information to appear on the Internet, it’s probably best that such information is kept secret (and perhaps in analog form) in the first place, as digitizing it only encourages rapid and broad distribution.

While it’s true that certain hackers have been prosecuted for sharing certain sensitive documents, it’s also true that at least in this country, none have been tortured or executed for the act of passing on digital files; in fact, most prosecutions of even the worst hackers have resulted in relatively light sentences that often omit jail time as punishment.

In the Senate, some WikiLeaks critics like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden have bemoaned that “[President] Trump actively encouraged Russians and WikiLeaks to attack our democracy.” And yet, Wyden, like some other lawmakers and commentators, is opposed to classifying WikiLeaks as an “intelligence service.” That’s because, in the words of the website The Hill, this classification “may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets.” Wyden believes that “the precedent of creating this new category of enemy of the United States is dangerous.”

According to First Amendment attorney Floyd Adams,

The broader issue is whether our government should be designating any entity as a “non-state hostile intelligence agency.” I’m not sure of the intended consequences of such a designation, but I’m pretty sure it could open WikiLeaks to threats and perhaps even violence. It has the sound of some official finding, which it is not, with some legal meaning to it, which it is not. So while I wouldn’t object to high-ranking intelligence officials harshly criticizing WikiLeaks, I’d stay away from faux official designations.

The executive director of the non-governmental Freedom of the Press Foundation, Trevor Timm, said that “[Senator] Wyden is right that the WikiLeaks provision [in the intelligence reauthorization bill] is unprecedented, vague and potentially dangerous.”

As both Adams and Timm argue, such labels could be applied to almost any entity; and by extension, individuals aiding and abetting that entity, either through online donations, digital collaborations or in-person administrative assistance could thus potentially be categorized as treasonous. Anyone even remotely connected to such entity could be subject to prosecution, imprisonment or perhaps worse, which recalls many of the worst abuses of the most totalitarian regimes in history, such as those of Germany’s National Socialists or the U.S.S.R.’s Communist Party.

In short, conservatives should be wary of their government trying to go on the offensive against WikiLeaks and by extension, free speech, when at the same time supporting what it calls free speech rights of the Right. Such selective treatment is the hallmark of a tyrannical state.

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