Assange is a necessity. Can the same be said for Amazon.com?
Thursday, December 16, 2010
By all accounts, jerk is not a big enough word to describe Julian Assange as a human being. His number two man recently defected to start a rival to Assange’s WikiLeaks, saying there was now too much of a personality cult emanating from Assange for the site to function properly. Assange is perhaps a little sleazy too; in his quest to bed young female admirers, he is alleged to have not mentioned a broken condom during one encounter, and refused to wear one altogether during a second.
In the U.S., such behavior would make him merely sleazy. In Sweden, where the sexual encounters are alleged to have occurred, it’s apparently a crime. But it’s a crime for which Swedish authorities only want to question him – he hasn’t actually been charged with anything as of Dec. 15 – and it took Assange more than a week to get a British judge to release him on $315,000 bail after Assange was labeled a flight risk. (Filmmaker Michael Moore on Dec. 14 put in $20,000 of his own money towards Assange’s bail, saying that if WikiLeaks had existed nine years ago, the justification for the Iraq war would have been exposed as lies.)
But even the bail decision was stayed to give the Swedes time to appeal, and Assange is required to spend every night at the same place and wear a monitoring bracelet until his next hearing in January.
So, in all, jerky, a little amoral… and an absolute necessity in an age where the majority of mainstream media has become the pet creature of the federal government. He’s also necessary at a time when Internet companies caging for federal government business or friendly regulatory environments have bowed to pressure to remove WikiLeaks from their servers (Amazon.com) or stop accepting donations to keep WikiLeaks running (PayPal, Visa and Mastercard).
AMAZON’S MOVE SHOULD BE CHILLING TO ANYONE WHO PUTS INFORMATION ONLINE.
Amazon made its decision to remove WikiLeaks from its servers on Dec. 1, but offered no reason for doing so. It’s remotely possible that Amazon wanted to avoid falling victim to the Denial of Service attack reportedly emanating from China that had begun to hit WikiLeaks. A DOS is an attack in which a server is hit with so many communications requests that it can’t respond to legitimate requests.
But it’s more likely that Amazon simply caved to government pressure. Everyone from house Republicans, who want Assange charged with espionage, to Hillary Clinton, who calls WikiLeaks an attack on American foreign policy, have chimed in on the subject. Hacktivists, meanwhile, took down PayPal for about eight hours on Dec. 6, while Mastercard was rendered inaccessible for most of Dec. 8 and Visa was on-again, off-again during that time.
There’s a lot of noise surrounding WikiLeaks and the decisions by some companies to stop doing business to support it. But perhaps the most eloquent voice in the middle of all of this belongs to a man whom undoubtedly understands what Assange is going through. Daniel Ellsberg, the former U.S. military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers during the Vietnam War, dispatched a letter following Amazon’s cowardly decision, urging his friends to boycott (“inconvenient as that may be,” he writes) and provide counter-pressure to efforts by the “Administration to demonize, hound, block and prosecute Wikileaks, and ultimately to control whistle-blowing and dissent on the internet.”
His letter to Amazon was pointed.
“I’m disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating its hosting ofthe WikiLeaks website… I want no further association with any company that encourages legislative and executive officials to aspire to China’s control of informationand deterrence of whistle-blowing.”
Ellsberg says for a few years, he’s been spending more than $100 a month with Amazon.
“That’s over,” he writes.
Amazon’s move should be chilling not only to WikiLeaks supporters, but to anyone who puts information online. Amazon’s revenue from its storage business, better known as Amazon Web Services, is expected to hit $2.5 billion by 2015. The federal government has $20 billion for infrastructure such as AWS, and Amazon is quietly competing for its share of government business.
Amazon was slow to respond last month when an e-book guide to pedophilia was allowed to remain online despite public outcry. Amazon said it would be censorship to remove material simply because people found it objectionable. The threat of a boycott, though, led to the book’s removal.
It makes hypocrisy of the company’s WikiLeaks stance laughable. Laughable, and scary too.