Wikileaks – Protector Of Civil Liberties, Or Utterly Misguided?
Theodor Reppe, who owns the server owns the German domain name of document-leak site Wikileaks, has had his home raided by German police, days after the site posted a list of websites blacklisted by the Australian authorities; some are suggesting the two things are linked. It’s a case that forms one giant moral grey area, that really needs to get painted in clearer shades.
Wikileaks has been at the centre of a number of high-profile information-sharing cases, the most recent being the publication of the BNP member address list and the leaked memos on Barclays’ tax avoidance. For the latter, applause – these were documents that laid bare the complexity of Barclays efforts to avoid supporting the country. For the former, boos – whatever you think about the BNP, it’s an invasion of privacy to have your political affiliations, which many people regard as deeply personal, pushed out into the open. The BNP’s members aren’t necessarily racist or xenophobic, and to put them on a list encouraged whitewashing of the issue.
Now with this Australian blacklist, there are similar charges of compromised civil liberties, with blocked sites weirdly including innocent destinations like a dentist’s office and a kennels. The idea of blocking access to certain websites is argued by Wikileaks to be undemocratic – they accused Australia of ”acting like a democratic backwater” with the list. The way Theodor Reppe, the owner of the site, had his home raided was personally damaging – the German authorities painted it as a search for child pornography, as Wikileaks publishes lists of blocked sites that include child pornography links.
Wikileaks says: “once a secret censorship system is established for pornographic content the same system can rapidly expand to cover other material, including political material” – they published a Thailand blacklist that featured sites criticising the Thai royal family.
All quite compelling. But it’s interesting when you learn that the dentist’s office website, that allegedly proves Australia’s internet suppression extends beyond child pornography, had its server hacked by a porn website and was redirecting users to their site, hence the ban from the government. If you take a look down the list of sites blocked to Australia’s people, the URLs alone make for uncomfortable reading, and are compelling evidence for a blacklist. If a dentist’s office that couldn’t keep their security in order appears on it, then it’s a small price for protecting users from child pornography.
Even more morally dubious is Wikileaks actually posting clickable links to all blocked child porn sites on its website – “If the customer is presented with a “STOP!” page, the site is still listed in the filter.” This is surely the most wrongheaded reaction imaginable – when you start to argue for free speech by disseminating child pornography, you know your argument has lost legitimacy.
Depressingly, the Australian blacklist that’s caused all this fuss is, according to one internet filterer, hopelessly out of date, with two thirds of the links dormant and the whole list only representing 0.2% of illegal pornographic material. To hamper efforts to combat this problem with accusations over mild limits on freedom is again wrongheaded.
The raid of Reppe may be overkill, and symptomatic of the apparent “hysteria” gripping Germany over paedophilia, but blacklists can surely be managed by an independent body to ensure there isn’t a creeping infringement upon civil liberties. But it’s another example of paranoia and kneejerk distrust, just as there was with Google’s Street View launch last week. Some “infringements” are useful when you’re trying to find your way round some bizarre street system, as in the case of Street View, and important when trying to combat abuse, in the case of blacklists. When it comes to protecting children, the paranoid howlings of Wikileaks should be kept to a low volume.