OpenLeaks Founder Explains Assange’s Indifference to Privacy Interests

by Roger Alford

I had a wonderful time at the ASIL annual meeting last week, and greatly enjoyed the panel discussion with Mary-Rose Papandrea and Simon Chesterman. One of the principal points that I was trying to convey in my presentation was the government’s legitimate interest in protecting the individual privacy interests. As I said in that presentation,

“The government recognizes that disclosure of certain information constitutes a fundamental infringement of civil liberties and takes drastic measures to prohibit it. The government prohibits disclosure of the names of rape victims, the surreptitious filming of a college roommate, or the publication of social security numbers. It imposes prior restraints on the free speech of attorneys—so-called gag orders—if that speech will compromise a fair trial. We create criminal penalties for prosecutors and civil remedies for private citizens if basic civil liberties are infringed by speech.”

In other words, regardless of what one thinks about Wikileaks’ harm to U.S. interests, civil libertarians have good reason to oppose Julian Assange’s callous indifference to privacy interests.

This week, Foreign Policy published an interview with Daniel Domscheidt-Berg, founder of OpenLeaks, that strongly reinforces my impression. In the interview, he explains the reasons for his break with Julian Assange. When asked about specific examples of reasons that Domschedt-Berg decided to break from Assange, he states at minute 3:25:

“The most striking [example of our differences] was with respect to the Afghanistan publication which happened shortly before I decided to leave them. There was a dispute about the whole way that Julian dealt with names that needed to be redacted from these documents before they were published in order to not put any sources … of the United States forces in Afghanistan in danger. I mean we’re talking about … regular peasants in Afghanistan that have nothing to do with the war that do not follow any specific political agenda. They just happen to be living in the wrong place where there is a war going on. These people should not be implicated by an effort where you are just trying to make transparent what is happening in the war. Julian basically, as much as I can tell, didn’t really care for protecting these people and I think that is a really bad attitude for anyone who’s in the publishing business.”

The interview is available here:

3 Responses

  1. This speaks to the proper redaction of names – not to the more fundamental salutary affect of the leaks themselves.  The government may hide behind the privacy interests argument, and that might be say 1 per cent of its concern.  But, 99 per cent of the concern might really be that it shows the government is being duplicitous with both its foreign counterparts and its own citizens. 

    A classic example is the Spanish case against the lawyers for torture.  Without Wikileaks we would not be privy to the efforts of both Obama Executive and Legislative types to put a spanner in that process – to block the effort to hold these people accountable.  With that information and in the context of what we have seen as the pitiful effort at DOJ on these matters, the average American citizen sees that the current administration is as hell-bent on having the option to torture with impunity as the prior was willing to exercise that option.  Both those states of exception views are simply unacceptable.  Moreover, that there are soldiers in jail court-martialed for doing the bidding of these higher ups in the various alphabet soups of our government is another irksome aspect of this – it is a world where we let the soldiers face the music, while we let high level people be defended ad nauseum by emissaries of the President to foreign capitals who might otherwise be appalled by their barbarity.

  2. It’s telling that Roger is still fixated on the old Afghanistan leaks to furnish his narrative with some kind of substance. As deplorable as that redaction failure was, however, Wikileaks has been long-since abandoned such an approach and is currently collaborating with major international organs to help sort and redact appropriately.

  3. Will,

    You need to do your homework.  Assange has not changed his approach, he just partnered with more responsible publishers in his latest diplomatic dump.  There are multiple reports indicating that the New York Times and the Guardian did the editing of private information and he just released their edited version of the documents. Even still there is a tremendous amount of private information in the latest diplomatic leaks that supports my point.

    I take it that you are conceding that his editorial approach was not sufficiently protective of privacy interests with respect to the Afghanistan document leaks. 

    Roger Alford

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