I spoke on BBC World Service and then ABC radio on 9 December about Wikileaks. Transcript of the Australian interview below MP3 download audio
This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.
Johnny Ryan: Fran, it’s a pleasure to be with you this morning.
Fran Kelly: Johnny Ryan, how seriously should we take the prospect of a cyberspace war over those who support WikiLeaks and those who don’t?
Johnny Ryan: Well, I’m not sure I’m necessarily afraid that the cyberspace war – and I think it’s also quite important to bear in mind that the people who are attacking MasterCard and PayPal, probably don’t necessarily have any formal affiliation or solid connection to WikiLeaks itself. You know, this is a movement which is tapping into the zeitgeist online and a few days ago there were posts on Twitter. One was from WikiLeaks. It said, WikiLeaks, strike us back, cut us down and the stronger we’ll become. And so a numbers of supporters then started to post back, tagging – I’m WikiLeaks – the I’m Spartacus line. Now, it’s just important to recognise that those people are not necessarily formally affiliated with WikiLeaks, but we’re seeing this as a kind of a crowd movement. Not necessarily one formal adversary. So talk of war and that kind of idea is probably not appropriate.
Fran Kelly: Which makes it – and I think there is a group now calls itself AnonOps, and as you say, it’s probably just this loose crowd out there online coming in behind, which makes it more difficult for companies and authorities to deal with. But we’ve heard already from PayPal this morning suggesting that they got calls from the State Department and that’s why they decided to stop processing donations to WikiLeaks. MasterCard too reportedly targeted for that reason. Is it your understanding, or do you have any reason to know whether US authorities are putting direct pressure on companies not to do business with WikiLeaks? Is that how you read it?
Johnny Ryan: Well, it’s certainly how I read it. But I don’t necessarily have any inside information on that. What I would say is, if you look at the terms of service for PayPal, for example, and I’m going to quote them to you, “Our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.” Now, it’s only a few months since one of the very significant leakers, Bradley Manning, who contributed Iraq war documents to WikiLeaks, since he was arrested by US authorities. So PayPal, whether or not you agree with its action, was entirely within the bounds of the contract that it had signed with WikiLeaks to do what it did. I’m not suggesting I support or do not support what they did, but, you know, they may not have needed prodding.
Fran Kelly: Sure, but you say to engage in illegal activity, that’s what you read out there, there’s a lot of argument about whether what WikiLeaks has done is illegal. Which goes to the whole thing of, you know, what is the right on the internet to publish and can we control that anymore? It’s the whole notion of censorship of the internet, isn’t it?
Johnny Ryan: Absolutely. I think there’s really two things there. The first is that PayPal, like all of these companies, has been very smart in giving itself a broad latitude with its terms of service. So WikiLeaks did not need to actually do anything illegal, it simply needed to facilitate something being done which was illegal. So, in that respect, you know, probably they’re on reasonably solid ground there. But I think there’s a much bigger picture, you know. This moment at which we’re at right now, it’s the first symptom of a great adjustment. And we are seeing states and governments trying to get to grips with an entirely new digital order, a new system of communications. So, you know, while the system is a product of ink technology, we are seeing, in WikiLeaks, the first proper challenge and there have been a number so far. But this is the first proper one where you’re seeing that the state’s ability to control ink media just don’t apply when you’re dealing with digital subversion. And, as of my last count, which was yesterday, WikiLeaks has been mirrored 748 around the internet. Which means it’s almost impossible, almost entirely impossible for any one or even group of states to act against it on the internet.
Fran Kelly: So just, Johnny, and I just warn you we’ve only got a minute until we have to go to the news – but in terms of this new order then, is there any dealing with it? How do states wrap their head around this and what does this new order mean, in terms of publishing and the flow of information in the future?
Johnny Ryan: Sure, well, I think the first thing that it means is that tackling this head on in the confrontational manner so far, that’s probably not going to work. And so states are probably finding that they are the moveable object in a sense. And that whether it’s WikiLeaks or, you know, whether WikiLeaks goes the other way and it’s something else, the state is going to have to adapt. And the same goes for business and culture. There are seismic disruptions happening to all of these actors who are used to the old industrial order. And they’re going to have to change in the digital era.
Fran Kelly: And, just very, very briefly, even if Julian Assange was – he is arrested now – if he was locked away, do you think all these quarter of a million documents will make it into the public domain?
Johnny Ryan: I mean, you know, presumably this particular hoard that they’re speaking about is real and can happen. But whether or not that’s the case, I’ll just say this – I agree – The end of Napster didn’t stop music piracy.