By Hamilton Octavio de Souza
The Australian, Julian Assange, became widely known as the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, which, a little over two years ago, began releasing thousands of secret documents to the United States, many of which were dispatches by diplomats relating their activities in other countries. Persecuted by the United States government and threatened with emprisonment in Europe, Assange has been exiled for almost a year in the Embassy of Ecuador, in London. On March 20th, 2012, (when he found himself under house arrest in the UK), Assange, who is a defender of the freedom of expression on the Internet and a militant of the cypherpunk movement, which advocates the adoption of cryptography (coded language) in order to protect the privacy of its individuals, companies, and states, met with three friends and colleagues specialized and dedicated in the Internet, for a debate on the situation and the future of the Net, especially with regards to confronting the growing authoritarian dominion of what is circulating in cyberspace.
The meeting resulted in the book “Cypherpunks – Freedom and the Future of the Internet,” by Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jeremy Zimmermann, published in Brazil by Boitempo Editorial, with a forward by journalist, Natália Viana and a preface and introduction by Assange himself. It is precisely in the preface for Latin America, dated January 2013, that the founder of WikiLeaks makes progress in the analysis of the political dimension of the Internet in a world marked by inequality between countries, with differences and regions established by technology, financial capacity, military power, etc.
For him, the struggle for sovereignty presently requires taking into account the autonomy and the protection of each country against the enormous surveillance system created throughout the Net, and controlled by the United States and a few private groups. Says Assange: “The surveillance of an entire population by a foreign power naturally threatens sovereignty. Intervention after intervention in questions of Latin American democracy have taught us to be realistic. We know that the former colonialist powers will use whatever advantage that they can in order to suppress Latin American independance.” Much later, he remembered that all Internet pathways in Latin America, via fibre optics or satellites, pass through the United States, and “Everyday the hundreds and thousands of messages coming from all over the Latin American continent are devoured by North American espionage organs and stored forever in city-sized warehouses.”
It is clear that governments negligent with the sovereignty of its countries, or oblivious to national projects, do not care about this type of appropriation and strategic control. At the same time, according to Assange, Latin American governments and militaries which have acquired, from the market, cryptography programs for the protection of its state secrets, were simply duped – because the majority of the firms which sell such devices “have direct links to the North American intelligence community.” So, what was supposed to have protected secrets, serves to steal secrets. In defending cryptography – against the surveillance of the Internet – in order to protect civic and individual freedom, as well as the sovereignty and independance of countries, the editor in chief of WikiLeaks affirms: “It cryptography can be used to combat not only the tyranny of the State over individuals, but the tyranny of the empire over the the colony.”
The book is more a warning to all of us, citizens who use the Internet daily. And it is also a good slap on the wrist to governments that, naively, are not yet aware of the new arena of imperialist action. It doesn’t hurt to give warning.
Hamilton Octavio de Souza is a journalist and professor.