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“The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops,” wrote John Perry Barlow on Twitter.
The censorship vs. free speech battle is escalating. This week has seen Amazon, Tableau, EveryDNS and PayPal dropping WikiLeaks services in quick succession, DDoS attacks that caused the site to go offline multiple times, and mounting political pressure from the US (2), Australian and French governments.
The US government went so far as to warn Switzerland against granting Julian Assange political asylum, reports 20 Minuten. In an open letter in Der Sonntag, the US ambassador to Switzerland, Donald Beyer, wrote that “Switzerland will have to consider very carefully whether to provide shelter to someone who is a fugitive from justice.” However Swiss politicians including Cédric Wermuth, president of the Young Socialist Party, Bastien Girod, president of the Greens National Council, and the Swiss Pirate Party have reiterated their support for Assange and willingness to grant him asylum.
The onslaught is creating growing resistance. “American pressure to dissuade companies in the US from supporting the WikiLeaks website has led to an online backlash in which individuals are redirecting parts of their own sites to its Swedish internet host,” writes The Guardian. “At the same time, scores of sites “mirroring” WikiLeaks have sprung up – by lunchtime today, the list was 74-strong and contained sites that have the same content as WikiLeaks and – crucially – link to the downloads of its leaks of 250,000 US diplomatic cables.” The mirror list counts now hundreds of domains.
WikiLeaks’ Swiss host, Switch, said that there was “no reason” why the site should be forced offline, despite demands from France and the US, in a statement released by the Swiss Pirate Party. French host OVH declared that it was up to judges, and “not up to the politicians or OVH to request or decide the closure of the site,” in a response to the French government.
John Karlung, the CEO of WikiLeaks’s Swedish host, Bahnhof, told The Daily Beast that “The service is provided in Sweden — where Swedish law applies. We are not subject to American law, Chinese laws or Iranian laws either, for that matter. WikiLeaks is just a normal business client. We do not treat them any different than any other client.” He said that the US had not contacted the company to ask it to cancel hosting for WikiLeaks, and when asked whether Bahnhof would comply if such a request were made, he answered “Of course not.”
Evgeny Morozov has cautioned in The Financial Times that the US backlash against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange may have unintended consequences: “WikiLeaks could be transformed from a handful of volunteers to a global movement of politicised geeks clamouring for revenge. Today’s WikiLeaks talks the language of transparency, but it could quickly develop a new code of explicit anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism and anti-globalisation.[...] An aggressive attempt to go after WikiLeaks – by blocking its web access, for instance, or by harassing its members – could install Mr Assange (or whoever succeeds him) at the helm of a powerful new global movement able to paralyse the work of governments and corporations around the world.”