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Here’s hoping Santa gives WikiLeaks founder a big lump of coal for Christmas

The IT Girl
|Written By Sarah Dale-Harris
Here’s hoping Santa gives WikiLeaks founder a big lump of coal for Christmas

Welcome to the darker side of the Internet. Yes, there are shades of dark, and this is but another of the darkest of shades. Wave the flag of freedom of speech and of the press all you want, but is a site like WikiLeaks really such a great thing?

Apart from stroking his own ego, which I gather is larger than life, and (in my opinion) giving the world the finger whilst hiding behind the shield of “you have a right to know,” I’m not so sure WikiLeaks isn’t doing a lot more harm than good — on a number of fronts.

“I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss off,” Julian Assange wrote to a WikiLeaks staffer who recently resigned in protest, according to

What can I say; it just isn’t that easy a thing to do. Assange was arrested in the United Kingdom over an outstanding sex-crimes warrant in Sweden. He is currently out on bail and refusing to return to Sweden for questioning, and his staff are indeed starting to “piss off.”

A number resigned in the wake of the release of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents which it is said were to have been more thoroughly redacted before being released (does that really make a difference ultimately?).

In fact, a group of former employees has broken off and is launching its own site: “OpenLeaks.” While the OpenLeaks group claims its site will be run democratically (apparently WikiLeaks was not) and will support whistleblowers and the dissemination of information to the public (sound familiar?), that it claims to be neutral and not guided by any political agenda is, well, a bit naive.

Also, it intends to collect the information, and let others fall on the sword of actual disclosure to the public. If nothing else, it appears to be learning from Assange’s mistakes.

Back to WikiLeaks though. In the wake of all the controversy and discussion, I had to ask myself: Is this information I really need, want, or ought to have access to? Or is it sheer titillation and the primal desire for a sense of superiority over others that drives one’s desire to find out what sort of private discussions take place behind the closed doors (if one can say such a thing about online transmissions) of some of our most powerful members of government.

In discussion over lunch with a friend from Chile, he suggested that, in fact, he did get some satisfaction from hearing his own thoughts at the time regarding a past president’s actions were echoed by senior American officials.

What is said publicly is clearly not what might have been said privately. But is that really a surprise to any of us? And would it really have done any good for the U.S. official to have said what he really thought at the time? Or am I just incredibly cynical in refusing to believe that our officials put on the cloak of transparency for our benefit as soon as they take public office. Honestly. Can you imagine what global politics and diplomacy, let alone peace might look like? Enter: WikiLeaks.

So how does one deal with a site like WikiLeaks? Apart from the allegations of copyright infringement, there appears to be a general reluctance to formally step up and charge Assange criminally or to flex the muscle of (any) law and shut the site down permanently.

Not that I’m unaware of many reasons (legal and non-legal) why it isn’t that easy to do. Case in point: MasterCard, among others, refused to post payments in support of WikiLeaks, and the result for MasterCard was a cyber attack on its site. Indeed, Swiss business PostFinance closed Assange’s bank account and itself was the subject of attacks to its web site.

I can certainly understand that legal reasons aside, governments would be reluctant to open themselves up not only to attack in the court of public opinion, but to cyber attacks as well. That said, if WikiLeaks really does pose a threat to national security, and not just diplomatic relations, surely there are legal, and not covert back-door-type, remedies that can be exercised in the name of public interest that won’t necessarily end in a cyberwar.

Indeed, a U.S. grand jury is reportedly meeting (not quite so secretly if we are reading about it online) to discuss possible criminal charges against Assange. Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, has apparently authorized criminal investigations into WikiLeaks, and under American law, the government could bring charges against Assange under not only the Espionage Act of 1917 — for disseminating classified information — but also under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — for inciting or aiding obtaining documents illegally.

I wonder if Assange ever actually stopped to consider the implications of his little project, before he issued the edict to post the first damning document.

On the plus side, we’ll probably see a surge in demand for heightened online security protocols (whether or not they are ever implemented). People, especially public officials and diplomats whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, will think twice before hitting the “send” button. And you never know, we might even see a positive improvement in government transparency and global diplomatic relations.

Right, and there really is a Santa Claus.

Sarah Dale-Harris is corporate counsel at Accenture Inc. and can be reached at or at 416-641-3151. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

  • Sarah
    Oh, the irony of it all... I just had to share: WikiLeaks' Assange: I'm the victim of leaks WikiLeaks' Assange gets leaked on

    I actually have many conflicting opinions about WikiLeaks for and against - legally and otherwise - but I still think he comes off as a pompous, self-righteous jerk, and I doubt that opinion is likely to change any time soon.

    Even if I heartily annoyed some of you (this column is actually meant to be opinion-based), I'm glad to have sparked a bit of discussion. Some interesting points were made.
  • Mike T
    Perhaps I am too old or too simple. What, if any, crime or legal wrong has Mr. Assange committed? Has there been a charge laid anywhere on any basis? Has any claim been issued/served? It has been a long time now since the outcry began and there is still nothing concrete. If the Swedes wish to "question" him, presumably they can go to England to do it, in the event that he agrees to do it. It is a frightening thing that this man seems presumed guilty rather than innocent. In Canada, we can decline to be "questioned" and the same thing is true of the entire civilized world. Let this fellow be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Sharon
    I think some of the posts here are too harsh. This is a brief opinion piece, not a news article.

    It seems to be generating some discussion and thought; isn't that really the point of publishing opinions?

    Regarding Mr. Assange, it is my opinion that his publication of this material was foolhardy and reckless. Foreign affairs is a delicate balance, and Canada has soldiers in Afghanistan right now. This is not a peaceful time.

    Mr. Assange's "expression" is likened to yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre, in my considered opinion. I hope that nobody dies because of his "freedom of expression."

    This case is an excellent example of the impact of the internet on social norms. Had Mr. Assange published the same sort of information, via a book or newspaper, during WWII, I think there would have been widespread public outrage.
  • Bill Tooke
    Tue 18 Jul 2006 : Professions
    What really seems to seperate blue-collar work from the professions is that the latter involves manipulation of human perception. The result being that long term success is more about how well you relate to other people than how well you can perform technically. There's no simple performance metric for doctors, lawyers, academics or businessmen; these are professions of perception control and not only the first two prey on inducing hopes and fears.
  • lawgirl
    This "article" was disappointing on so many levels -- the failure to back up, in any way, the negative headline; the author's apparent belief that asking several questions, without answering them, is sufficent for, well, anything; the seeming lack of research or thought put into it; the irrelevant and slightly bizarre asides about Mr Assange's personality and staff conflicts.

    I don't care if you agree with what WikiLeaks did, or don't agree; just give me a logical argument, backed up by facts, rather than ad hominem commentary or straw bogey men created by vague ponderings. Don't give me a messy collection of seemingly stream-of consciousness, unfinished musings that lead nowhere; it's a waste of everybody's time, and the only point that ends up being effectively made is about the author.

    I am appalled that Canadian Lawyer published such a piece, if only because it implies that this is what its readers want or deserve. Shame.
  • Keith
    I can't help but agree with Mr. Neocynic. It is troubling that a lawyer-journalist would adopt the mindless rhetoric of the anti-WikiLeaks campaign without any critical analysis of same. Frankly, I find Mr. Assange too smug and crass for my liking, but to describe WikiLeaks itself as a "darkest" evil is both unsubstantiated and grossly unfair. It certainly isn't quality journalism.
  • Neocynic

    The anti-Wikileaks faction is becoming positively unhinged with ignorance.

    You would expect that so abrasive a lawyer would exhibit even a passing familiarity with both copyright law and the relevant provisions of the US Espionage Act. Ignorance can be cured with a brief google of the relevant law before wondering why there is such "reluctance" to persecute Mr. Assange. Its called the rule of law, check it out. While there, try familiarizing yourself with something called "freedom of speech." Perhaps a look at an obscure piece called The Charter may help.

    But then again, crypto-fascists are not known for their curiosity, let alone sympathy for liberal democracy.

    LOL! Actually, the biggest fear is that the next leak may well be of some person's private emails, and the political exposure of who they really are.
  • Michele Ballagh
    I agree. As an IP litigator involved in several trade secret cases, it is incredible to me that Mr. Assange has not already been arrested and thrown in jail for a very long time. There is no excuse for his actions.
  • Mark Wells
    [quote name="Michele Ballagh"]I agree. As an IP litigator involved in several trade secret cases, it is incredible to me that Mr. Assange has not already been arrested and thrown in jail for a very long time. There is no excuse for his actions.[/quote]

    Are you suggesting that the New York Times, Guardian, et al. be thrown in jail for a very long time too? Assange has done nothing that hasn't been done already by the likes of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The difference is the scope.

    Personally, I'm glad to read about what is actually going on in Afghanistan. Wikileaks has disclosed the fact that our diplomatic teams and military are supporting a corrupt administration that is know to be involved in the drug trade. As a result, I am much more confident that our mission there will end sooner than later.