The Excuse is Wikileaks. The Object is Freedom of Speech. The Subject is Authoritarianism.

Posted on January 8, 2011 by

If you were asked which regime is described by the following actions and characteristics, what would you answer?

  1. A regime that produces a death list of citizens abroad to be executed by its secret intelligence service, without arrest, without trial by a jury.
  2. A regime that conducts surveillance at home and then uses that information to have an allied state abroad, one that flouts human rights, and tortures one of its citizens.
  3. A regime that continues to operate secret detention centres where inmates are routinely denied the most basic rights to challenge the reasons why they have been imprisoned, without charge, and without representation.
  4. A regime that is bent on maintaining war against other nations, including against peoples who never attacked it, thereby representing an obstacle to world peace.
  5. A regime that routinely denies the legitimate claims and demands of its population, in order to favour a small cabal of elite bankers and industrialists, and thus also a regime that effectively renders elections little more than an expensive shadow play owned and operated by the billionaires who can engineer a win for their candidates.
  6. A regime that persecutes those who believe that it is wrong to conceal the human rights abuses of their regime, that believe the world needs to know how that regime uses its troops to slaughter innocent civilians abroad, with neither reason nor remorse.
  7. A regime that exercises pressure to round up the private details of Internet users, if they in any way conspired to reveal these facts.
  8. A regime that harasses its citizens at airports, seizing their personal property, extracting information about a person’s activities and associations, and then targeting the person’s friends and colleagues, on the suspicion that the person may have peacefully opposed the state’s public lies.

(Answers: 1 – source, source, source; 2 – source, source, source, another example; 3 – source, source; 4 – example; 5 – example; 6 – example, example; 7 – source, source, source, source; 8 – example, example, example.)

Some might reply, “China,” except that points 1 and 4, at the very least, do not seem to readily apply. One might then have said, “Iran,” but only insofar as torture and net surveillance are concerned. In fact the list, as incomplete as it is, only describes the United States, and yesterday the U.S. government decided that the best way to respond to its overexposure by Wikileaks was to demonstrate and confirm that one’s lowest opinions of the regime, that the betrayal of democracy, the failure of liberalism, and the totalitarian bent of the state were all in fact correct. Consider what follows from such a realization, and ask if “working within the system” and “politics as usual” will suffice any more as anything other than naive desperation and self-deception. If such a list might have described to some a China or an Iran, then imagine what it says about the citizen that abides by it, knowing what we know, seeing what is put on display.


For those who have not yet had a chance to catch up with the news, yesterday Iceland Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir revealed via Twitter that the U.S. Department of Justice had gone to Twitter with a sealed order (hence, not to be communicated to the targets of their “criminal investigation”) demanding “all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the “means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards. It seeks all of that information for the period beginning November 1, 2009, through the present.” It was not just Jónsdóttir who was targeted, but also Jacob Appelbaum, Rop Gonggrijp, and Julian Assange, with the same information sought for Bradley Manning and for WikiLeaks’ Twitter account (neither Manning nor Assange have their own individual Twitter accounts). You can read the order itself here. Had Twitter not pushed back, and got the subpoena unsealed (read the order to unseal), thus permitting the targets to appeal the order, the information would have been quietly and secretly passed on to the U.S. Government, like perhaps other online media services have done already.

Those who have initially been targeted by this action–which seems to be part of an effort for the U.S. Government to actually do what every reasonable person advises it not to do, which is to pursue a case to criminalize the publishing of leaks (one example)–have offered a number of reasons of why they think this is happening. Jónsdóttir said “I think I am being given a message, almost like someone breathing in a phone.” She confirmed, “I have nothing to hide and have done nothing wrong,” but not for that reason would she just “hand my information over willingly to DoJ.” Appelbaum asked: “I wonder if the subpoena is merely a front to legally introduce evidence captured by the confirmed NSA wiretaps two blocks from Twitter HQ?” Gonggrijp noted, “I would have guessed that the US government has more discreet and effective ways of getting my IP-number and credit card details, which is essentially all this would get them.” He added: “Heaven knows how many places have received similar subpoenas and just quietly submitted all they had on me.” Wikileaks itself, via its Twitter account, had this to say: “Note that we can assume Google & Facebook also have secret US government subpeonas. They make no comment. Did they fold?”

Wikileaks rightly points out:

“If the Iranian govt asked for DMs of Iranian activists, State Dept would be all over this violation of ‘Internet freedom’.”

At what point does one stop making excuses for the system? At what point do analyses begin to reflect that liberalism is dead (it was a short-term experiment in hegemony), that the war is intended to be permanent, that speech has been distorted or prostituted by the state, that the project of economic development and modernization has failed the majority of humanity, everywhere, utterly? And if you don’t want to talk about these things, what are you talking about?