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Assange: NSA, GCHQ’s ability to surveil everyone on planet ‘almost here’

Published time: March 08, 2014 20:05
Edited time: March 10, 2014 19:16
Video still from SXSW's stream (texastribune.org/livestream/sxsw2014/)

Video still from SXSW's stream (texastribune.org/livestream/sxsw2014/)

The NSA and GCHQ will soon have the ability to spy on the entire planet, as their capabilities double every 18 months, Julian Assange told the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference on Saturday.

The Wikileaks founder made a Skype appearance at the interactive technology festival, which is taking place in the city of Austin.

“The ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there, and arguably will be there in a few years,” said Assange. “And that’s led to a huge transfer of power from the people who are surveilled upon to those who control the surveillance complex. It’s an interesting postmodern version of power.”

Assange also posed the question, “How is it that the internet that everyone looked upon as perhaps the greatest tool of human creation that had ever been has, in fact, been co-opted and [is] now involved in the most aggressive form of state surveillance the world has ever seen?”

He added that the world is “moving into a new totalitarian world — not in the sense of Stalin or Pol Pot, but totalitarian in the sense that the surveillance is total.”

Prior to the Edward Snowden leaks, the NSA's public relations campaign was non-existent, Assange told the large audience while speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In fact, reporters used to joke that NSA stood for “no such agency.”

Snowden, a former contractor for the agency, last year exposed mass global surveillance programs led by the NSA and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), its British counterpart. The leaks exposed the agencies' practices of tapping the internet networks, emails, and phone calls of millions of ordinary citizens and political leaders.

Assange criticized the current power balance as “totalitarian dystopia,” by which he meant that “surveillance is total, so that no one exists outside the state.”

Whereas only four years ago the internet was largely an apolitical space, it is has now – through movements such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement – become a tool to motivate and organize political change. This means that those in power will seek to control and surveil such a tool, the Australian activist said.

'Courage is seeing fear'

To showcase the claim, Assange pointed at Snowden and various other whistleblowers, including those from Wikileaks.

British journalist and legal researcher Sarah Harrison, US filmmaker Laura Poitrasa, and US computer security researcher Jacob Applebaum are now all living in effective exile in Berlin, while Glenn Greenwald – who used to be a freelance writer for the Guardian and wrote many of the reports from Edward Snowden on the NSA – is in Brazil. Edward Snowden himself was forced to seek asylum in Russia.

Partly as a result of the NSA leaks scandal, Brazil has become a powerful advocate of trying to limitmass global surveillance. In April, the country will try to introduce changes to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) regulations. ICANN is responsible for the coordination of the global internet's systems.

But Assange warned that it will be very difficult to turn back the tide of mass global surveillance, as the surveillance agencies hold all the cards and all the power. Specifically, it would be practically impossible for anyone within the government to meaningfully reduce the powers of the surveillance agencies.

“We know what happens when a government gets serious: someone gets fired, prosecuted, etc. These have not happened to the NSA,” he said.

He gave as an example the case of General David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, who was squeezed out over an extramarital affair scandal in 2012 – although the official version of events is that he resigned after an extramarital affair was discovered by the FBI, Assange said.

“There has been a military occupation of internet space – a very serious phenomenon," Assange told the attendees.

Before Wikileaks exposures, "we weren't actually living in the world, we were living in some fictitious representation of the world," Assange noted. The surveillance of the internet is “the penetration of our civilian society. It means that there has been a militarization of our civilian space. A military occupation of the Internet, our civilian space, is a very serious one.”

“Only a fool has no fear. Courage is seeing fear,” he said.

Video still from SXSW's stream (texastribune.org/livestream/sxsw2014/)

When asked if he would have done anything differently over the past few years, Assange was adamant that he would not have stayed in the UK, adding that it has a distasteful class system, unlike his native Australia. He said he listened to bad advice from his lawyers, who have profited vastly from the publicity of representing him, while Assange himself has been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy for over a year and a half.

Assange said there will be more leaks to come, without specifying the timeframe. “Yes, there is important upcoming material,” he remarked. “I don’t like to give time frames because it tends to give the opponents of that material more time to prepare their spin lines.”

Assange is wanted in Sweden to face questioning for an alleged sexual offense, which he claims has been fabricated in order to get him to face trial in the US for the activity of Wikileaks.

He applied to Ecuador for political asylum in June 2012 and has been inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 19, 2012. Assange was formally granted asylum by Ecuador on August 16, 2012.

A team of police are on constant duty outside the embassy in case Assange tries to escape. The cost of keeping them there is estimated to have already reached US$4.5 million.

Comments (76)

 

Klare kerry 16.05.2014 12:13

how about your lawyer,Assange, hanging out down the streets with CIA George.Clooney?

 

Richard Mccarty 10.03.2014 21:13

So sad that we the many have been duped by so few. If this is Democracy I don't want it. Where have we gone so wrong!!!

 

Roger D. Caudill Jr. 09.03.2014 19:01

If people wanna stop mass suveilence its simple and not so simple. It is nothing short of destroying every satellite orbiting earth. Perhaps destroying the internet itself may not be such a bad idea. But that is my opinion. So what is everyone elses opinion.

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