In a rare public appearance, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said leaked diplomatic cables played a role in sparking the pro-democracy revolution in West Asia.
Addressing the Cambridge Union Society on Tuesday evening, Mr. Assange referred to the revolt in Tunisia which was triggered by the self-immolation of a fruit-seller and said: “His act took what was an online campaign about what was happening in Tunisia and expressed it in physical form. The cables showed the U.S. would support the military over the Tunisian regime. This changed the dynamic between reformists and regimists.”
Mr. Assange played down the role of the social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook in the West Asia unrest and singled out the television network Al Jazeera for praise.
“Yes, [social media] did play a part, although not nearly as large a part as Al Jazeera,” he was reported as saying.
He questioned the notion that internet necessarily favoured free speech and human rights arguing that it had in fact emerged as the “greatest spying machine the world has ever seen” with totalitarian regimes using it to spy on their opponents.
“While the internet has in some ways an ability to let us know to an unprecedented level what government is doing....it is also the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen. It is not a technology that favours freedom of speech. It is not a technology that favours human rights. It is not a technology that favours civil life. Rather, it is a technology that can be used to set up totalitarian spying regime, the likes of which we have never seen,” he said.
There was criticism that the national media was barred from the lecture. Students attending the event were told that it was “illegal to film, photograph or record” it.
Mr. Assange thought that some of the restrictions were a “bit rough”.
“It seems that their restriction on recording is a bit rough, but I support it to a degree. Otherwise it would have become a press conference,” he said.