While Julian Assange was living under house arrest at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, England back in June of 2011 awaiting word on his possible extradition to Sweden on rape charges, he received an unexpected guest, Eric Scmidt, the Chairman and co-founder of Google.
Accompanying Schmidt was an entourage consisting of Jared Cohen, the former Secretary of State advisor to Hillary Clinton, Scott Malcomson, Director of Speechwriting for Ambassador Susan Rice at the US State Department and current Communications Director of the International Crisis Group, and Lisa Shields, the Vice President of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Schmidt’s purpose for the visit was to interview Assange for his forthcoming book entitled “The New Digital Age,” which is set to be released on April 23 this year. The embattled leader of the guerrilla publishing organization and the chairman of one of the world’s biggest tech companies “locked horns” in what is described by the publisher as “an historic dialogue between the North and South poles of the Internet.”
Ironically, Julian Assange will recount the now almost 3-year-old conversation in his own book, which is slated for release in September of this year under the title of “When Google Met WikiLeaks.” The book will detail the encounter with Schmidt as well as present Assange’s own vision for the “future of the Internet,” according to the publisher.
Lest we forget, a funding ban for Wikileaks has been in effect since 2011, which forced WikiLeaks to suspend a majority of its publishing operations after US Senator Joe Lieberman requested
that companies such as Visa, Western Union, Bank of America and PayPal stop processing all transactions and donations to the rogue site.
Moreover, the US Senator was not the only one supporting this ban - in fact, Google itself had taken a strong stance in favor of this move
back in 2011. Ironically, the very company interviewing WikiLeak’s Julian Assange on the issue of Internet freedom is the same organization that has backed a funding ban against it.
Google’s Policy Counsel, Katherine Oyama, made the following statement during a congressional hearing:
“You look at WikiLeaks. I think this is a good example of the fact that this a strong remedy: choking these sites off at their revenue source. I think [copyright infringing sites] are in business because they can sell advertising or because they can process from subscribers. If you could get the entire industry together and choke off advertising and choke off payments to those sites…”
Thus, Google’s stance on sites like WikiLeaks becomes quite clear as Oyama suggested that policing these kinds of sites will be impossible and instead opting for the ‘financial sanctions’ route.
This is where the Bitcoin angle becomes important. In fact, WikiLeaks has been using new alternative methods of exchange to accept donations
as well as trying other means of bypassing the ban
WikiLeaks Bitcoin address: 1HB5XMLmzFVj8ALj6mfBsbifRoD4miY36v.
Litecoin address: LQ3B36Yv2rBTxdgAdYpU2UcEZsaNwXeATk
According to sources
, the amount received to date has already surpassed 1.5 million US dollars based on the exchange rate at the time of writing.
The two men sat down and exchanged ideas on the information age, Internet freedom, and other related issues - from Arab Spring to Bitcoin. Apparently, Eric Schmidt was not aware of the virtual currency’s existence prior to their conversation. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
There's also a very nice little paper that I've seen in relation to Bitcoin, that... you know about Bitcoin?
OK, Bitcoin is something that evolved out of the cypherpunks a couple of years ago, and it is an alternative... it is a stateless currency…
The latter part of the interview shifted towards the topic of Internet freedom, privacy and online anonymity.
Jared Cohen: You said we are at a crossroads now where those organizations that are fighting against those people who want to be able to publish freely and disclose important information to the public.
JA: It was pretty long wasn't it? Okay, hah. ...Could produce if successful a signal which discourages everyone or almost everyone from engaging in those activities, or we and people who share our values could be successful and that will then become the new norm of accepted behavior.
ES: And what are the necessary conditions for that to occur for the latter? I can easily imagine the necessary conditions for the former.
JA: Everyone gives money to WikiLeaks. That is the main...
JC: I didn't even hear that!
ES: Everyone gives money to WikiLeaks.
JC: Are you talking Bitcoin?
JA: Yes. Yes. Um. So it is quite interesting to know whether, if people read this and then act will they actually be enough to change the result. That is why we are at a very interesting period and I think we are literally at this crossroads and a little bit more push to one direction or another could change the outcome a lot. So people should, if they want to see the values that we promote succeed, promote those organizations and individuals that represent those values and start taking on doing it themselves.
JC: I was going to say, or become it.
JA: Yeah, become it. Become representations of those values themselves. I am always hesitant in saying that everyone should go out and be a martyr. Because I don't believe that. I believe the most effective activists are those that fight and run away. Not those who fight and martyr themselves, but those who fight and run away to fight another day. So that's about judgment, when to engage in the fight and when to withdraw so as to preserve your resources for the next fight.
JC: Would you make the argument that fighting and running away is not that not different, like physically fighting and running away is not that different from fighting anonymously so long as you are sufficiently competent that your anonymity...
JA: If you have perfect anonymity you can fight forever, yeah. You don't have to run away.
Battle of Ideas
The interview outlined radically opposing views between the two sides. Assange sees the Internet as a tool that can be used to liberate global citizenry, reduce dependence on centralized government and financial institutions, and promote individual freedom. Schmidt’s view is more in line with that of US government policy - one that strives to connect American companies and businesses with global markets.
In fact, the author of “When WikiLeaks met Google” is a major critic of Schmidt’s POV, describing his policy as “technocratic imperialism” and “equates progress with the geographic expansion of Google, supported by the US State Department.”
It will be interesting to see how this battle of ideas will play out on the world stage with the release of the two books, “The New Digital Age” and “When WikiLeaks met Google,” as they go head to head. And you, the reader, have the opportunity to choose the victor by voting with your e-wallets.