Tucked away on a side street in one of London's toniest neighborhoods, just across the street from the sprawling department store Harrods, sits a brick, Victorian-era apartment building that houses the Ecuadorean embassy. Julian Assange, the founder and editor of the whistle-blower website Wikileaks, walked into this embassy on June 19, 2012, and hasn't stepped foot outside since.
The freedom to communicate and to share has entered a new era. The power promised by this freedom, by the Internet, is immense, so much so that it frightens entrenched institutions. Governments, militaries, corporations, banks: They all stand to lose the control they exert over society when information they suppress runs free. Yet some of the most ardent advocates for the free Internet have become targets of these very institutions, forced to live on the run, in exile or, in some cases, in prison.
One cyberactivist's federal case wrapped up this week, and another's is set to begin. While these two young men, Jeremy Hammond and Bradley Manning, are the two who were charged, it is the growing menace of government and corporate secrecy that should be on trial.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's protracted effort to fight extradition to Sweden suffered a body blow this week. Britain's Supreme Court upheld the arrest warrant, issued in December 2010. After the court announced its split 5-2 decision, the justices surprised many legal observers by granting Assange's lawyers an opportunity to challenge their decision -- the first such reconsideration since the high-profile British extradition case from more than a decade ago against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The decision came almost two years to the day after Pvt. Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents to Wikileaks.
Wikileaks, the whistle-blower website, has again published a massive trove of documents, this time from a private intelligence firm known as Stratfor. The source of the leak was the hacker group "Anonymous," which took credit for obtaining more than 5 million emails from Stratfor's servers. Anonymous obtained the material on Dec. 24, 2011, and provided it to Wikileaks, which in turn partnered with 25 media organizations globally to analyze the emails and publish them.
"People say that Australia has given two people to the world," Julian Assange told me in London recently, "Rupert Murdoch and me." Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, was humbly dismissing my introduction of him, to a crowd of 1,800 at East London's Troxy theater, in which I suggested he had published perhaps more than anyone in the world. He said Murdoch took that publishing prize.
Two days later, the Milly Dowler phone hacking story exploded, and Murdoch would close one of the largest newspapers in the world, his News of the World, within a week.