Wikileaks, the Pirate Party movement, and the future of the free press

With its founder in the custody of British authorities, and the organization’s website under sustained attacks, Wikileaks is now receiving significant support from the international Pirate Party movement.

Wikileaks has dominated the news since it began publishing a vast trove of leaked State Department cables last week in conjunction with media outlets such as the UK Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, The New York Times and Spain’s El Pais. The reaction from the US political establishment has been swift and, at times, virtually hysterical.  The incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Peter King, stated, “This is worse even than a physical attack on Americans, it’s worse than a military attack,” and promptly called for Wikileaks to be designated a foreign terrorist organization.  Self-styled Independent Democrat, Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, successfully pressured Amazon.com to cease hosting any portion of the Wikileaks website.  The next day, the site’s domain name provider, EveryDNS.net, terminated its contract with the controversial organization, stating that distributed attacks against the Wikileaks website would jeopardize the stability of its own infrastructure, which enables access to hundreds of thousands of other websites.

Yet, Wikileaks is still online and its vast database of leaked documents is arguably now more widely accessible than ever before due to a concerted effort by the international Pirate Party movement.  Shortly after EveryDNS cut its ties with Wikileaks, the organization announced that is had simply moved to a new domain, wikileaks.ch, which had been registered by the Pirate Party of Switzerland earlier this year, according to an article at Torrent Freak.  Reportedly, Wikileaks is also being hosted by the Swedish broadband provider Bahnhof, among other European carriers.  At Forbes, Andy Greenberg reports that, “WikiLeaks first moved into Bahnhof’s Pionen data center in August, using servers officially owned by the Swedish Pirate Party.” However, the Pirate Party is not only helping keep Wikileaks online, it is also ensuring that the contents of the site remain accessible on the Internet, even despite attacks against the main site.

On Sunday, the Pirate Party International announced that Pirate Party organizations from around the world had “decided in a joint resolution to make Wikileaks available on a worldwide distributed mirroring infrastructure.”  By setting up sites to mirror the main Wikileaks website, the joint action aims to “guarantee that the release of US diplomatic cables can continue and [that] previous publications will stay online.”  The Pirate Parties of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, and Serbia are specifically named in the PPI announcement, but others are also on board.  In a separate press release, the Pirate Party UK announced that it would also be participating in the action.  The US Pirate Party has not released any statements regarding this matter, but its New York affiliate appears to be participating in the mass-mirroring action, and has apparently devoted its home site to the effort.  

Originally founded in Sweden in 2006, the Pirate Party burst onto the international scene in 2009, when its Swedish supporters elected two representatives to the European Parliament.  Among the party’s top priorities are copyright and patent reform, the strengthening of the individual right to privacy, and transparency in government.  According to Pirate Party International, there are active Pirate Party organizations in nearly 50 countries around the world.  

Pirate Party International was careful to state that the mass-mirroring action should not be seen as an endorsement of the Wikileaks organization, but is rather an “affirmation of their commitment to whistle-blowing worldwide.”  The announcement quotes the organization’s co-chairman, Gregory Engels of the Pirate Party Germany, stating:

     “This is a fight for fundamental freedoms on the Internet. Pirates will not accept governmental attempts to restrict access to free press and constrain freedom of speech.”  

It should be deeply troubling to all Americans that so many politicians and political commentators in the United States are unwilling to take a similar stand in support of the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech.  Texas Rep. Ron Paul is one of the few elected officials who has voiced his dissent with the establishment consensus regarding Wikileaks.  In a statement on his website, Paul writes:

     “state secrecy is anathema to a free society.  Why exactly should Americans be prevented from knowing what their government is doing in their name? In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth.  In a society where truth becomes treason, however, we are in big trouble.”  

It may well be the case that the most vocal opponents of Wikileaks are the least informed on the matter.  In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Senator Joe Lieberman was asked what he thought of the fact that the Justice Department has not yet charged Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with treason.  Lieberman replied, “I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened yet.”  The answer to this question is actually quite simple: Julian Assange is not an American citizen, and therefore, by definition, cannot commit treason against the United States.  Senator Lieberman was clearly unaware of even the most basic facts regarding the organization.  

Others have stated that by leaking and publishing over 250,000 diplomatic cables, Wikileaks has effectively declared war on the United States.  Yet, Wikileaks does not actually leak documents, but rather publishes documents it receives from individuals who have determined to leak documents on their own, which is why it is frequently called a “whistle-blower website.”  In the present case, Wikileaks has not even published .004% of the cables in question.  As the New York Times reported:

     “only around 1,000 of the cables have so far been released; in many, names of sources who might be compromised or endangered were redacted.”  

Since many if not most of these cables have been published by the news outlets mentioned above, sometimes even before they had been released by Wikileaks, and since those outlets also possess the entire trove of documents, calls to prosecute Wikileaks for possessing and publishing them are effectively an attack on the freedom of the press on a global scale.  

In this context, the Obama administration might consider taking its own words to heart.  In a town hall meeting with future Chinese leaders in November 2009, President Obama stated:

     “the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable.”  

Just two months later, Secretary of State Clinton echoed these words from the President and warned that:

     “technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.”