In a speech to the 19th International Symposium on Electronic Art held in Sydney in June, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange discussed the impact of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations, the meaning of the wholesale US spying program Snowden revealed, and the policies of the WikiLeaks party. Below is an extract of the talk, a video and full transcript of Assange's speech can be found at Thing2Thing.com.
* * *
Now, this week has been an important week for us; it's been an important week for everyone that is connected to the internet. The internet has penetrated every aspect of our society and our society has penetrated every aspect of the internet. These two civilisations have merged and fed upon one another and enriched one another and distorted each other.
There is no greater reflection of that than the revelations over the past week of Edward Snowden and the continuing trial of WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning in the United States. Why is that?
Snowden revealed something that I have been speaking about for a long time — proof that as the internet has penetrated every aspect of society, riding on with it is mass surveillance. Mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency in cooperation with its partners and other countries trying to do the same thing, although not nearly as effectively.
You may have seen the graph released by the mainstream media detailing the National Security Agency's PRISM program. It shows the interflows of information between continents and that is how people in this game look at it. Just like oil pipelines connecting the raw energy supplies of entire continents.
We now have a new source of wealth and a new war for it — a new great game for the bulk flows of information that connect humanity together, to grab onto them to surround them like armies surround oil wells, or customs agents surround goods crossing the border.
That graph shows for example that 99% of communications from Latin America flow out through the United States to get to Australia, Asia and Europe. And as they pass through the US, they're intercepted, indexed, stored by the National Security Agency.
Similarly, it shows that when Australians communicate to Latin America and Europe, their communications flow through bulk interception points with the NSA.
There has been a change that has occurred under [Barack] Obama. Some of these revelations about the bulk collections of telecommunications records in the US from Horizon and AT&T came out in 2006. They come out under the Bush government. There was an executive order given [by then-president George W Bush], that pushed those companies to comply.
Bush corrupted the presidency, corrupted the constitution, corrupted a few big telecommunications companies in the United States. But we have seen a transition under Obama, who promised more transparency.
But those people who were watching closely at how he appointed his security advisors understood long before he was elected, those promises would not be fulfilled.
Bush corrupted the presidency and a few telecommunications companies, but Obama, in order to do things properly, corrupted the courts. He corrupted the FISA Court Court, which issues the secret orders, he corrupted the Senate oversight committees that oversee the intelligence agencies that oversees the Pfizer Court, he corrupted political opposition in the media.
Once finished with corrupting the mechanisms of government, Obama moved on to apply leverage to corrupt all the big US tech companies; Google, Facebook, Skype, Microsoft — all of them sucked into this new regime.
Now, we might think that the internet is a place where we are all equals. It is a new world for civilians, where we can develop our ideas and we are all equal because we can all communicate to everyone. But it is not an equal place. This weeks revelations have proven that is it very far from an equal place and it is very far from a civilian place.
The internet has been transformed into a militarily occupied state. When all of our private communications, the intercore of our life, communications between boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, between business partners even between bureaucracies and states — all those communications are swept up, hoovered up into a vast collection apparatus, indexed and stored for all time and available only to a select few.
When that happens, we are in the situation that we [as good as] have a tank on the street, where we have a soldier under our bed listening to everything that we say.
The penetration of the digital aspects of civilian life is also the penetration of the military and intelligence agencies into civilian life.
The internet — our greatest tool of emancipation — has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism that we have ever seen. The internet has become a threat to human civilisation.
These transformations have come about silently because those who know what is going on in the global surveillance industry have no incentive to speak out. Left to its own trajectory, in some years global civilisation will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia from which escape will be impossible. We must communicate what we have learned while there is still a chance to act [on] what is happening.
Now, that seems like a very negative description of the state of the world, but I want to talk about another phenomena. Simultaneously, as the internet has penetrated society and military and security agencies have penetrated it, we have developed a new body politic.
The internet in bringing people together, it has created a new realm were political discussion, discussion about values, has developed. The transition over the past four years has taken the internet from a politically apathetic space into a political space, where those people who are engaged with it understand that decisions that affect their lives online also affect their lives offline.