It has been one long battle for WikiLeaks merely to exist on the Internet since it started publishing the U.S. diplomatic cables. The cat-and-mouse game that it has had to play to retain an accessible address in cyberspace is the result of a virulent attack launched by right-wing lawmakers in America and their supporters, and commercial entities such as Amazon, which caved in to the pressure. But more fundamentally, the WikiLeaks saga represents the acid test for free speech. With each tranche of documents published online, the world is witnessing the total loss of dominance of secretive governments over information. The backlash has come swiftly, with bellicose American Senators engaging in plain intimidation to get commercial entities to stop offering services to WikiLeaks on the ground that it is distributing material it does not own. Some politicians have made a jingoistic pitch and called for the execution of the source of the leaks. This is nothing but Digital McCarthyism. Were it not for the threat it poses to the free Internet, it would even appear amusing. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama was ‘troubled' by the cyber attacks on Google, which were said to originate in China, and wanted those responsible to face the consequences. The more freely information flows, the stronger society becomes, he had said during an earlier visit to China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also strongly critical of Internet restrictions in China. Now the boot is on the other foot. Concern for free speech is nowhere in evidence as extra-legal methods are deployed to deny Americans their First Amendment rights.
The campaign against WikiLeaks is a clear move to censor political material on the Internet and, potentially, on other media. The first moves made by lawmakers such as Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, have no legal foundation and yet have succeeded with Amazon and PayPal. What has followed is shockingly repressive and obscurantist. The Library of Congress blocked access to WikiLeaks across its computer systems, including reading rooms, and Columbia University students aspiring for diplomatic careers have been advised not to comment on, or link to, the whistleblower website's revelations. It is doubly tragic that such concerted attacks are securing support from countries with a progressive legacy such as France. The intolerant response to WikiLeaks is a potential threat to all media and must be fought. Senator Lieberman and other lawmakers have introduced legislation that proposes to make the publication of an intelligence source a federal crime. Already, U.S. law allows the shutting down of some Internet domains managed in that country on grounds of infringement of copyright. The threat to the publication of inconvenient material, even with responsible redactions, is all too real.