WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange doesn’t normally give a lot of interviews from his sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London — but when he is promoting a new book, exceptions can be made. So the Australian freedom-of-information activist did one of Reddit’s trademark “Ask Me Anything” interviews about some of the topics he writes about in the book, including Google chairman Eric Schmidt, the future of Bitcoin and the terrorist group ISIS. What follows is a heavily condensed version of that interview.
On the potential of decentralized data protocols like Bitcoin:
Bitcoin is an extremely important innovation, but not in the way most people think. Bitcoin’s real innovation is a globally verifiable proof publishing at a certain time. The whole system is built on that concept and many other systems can also be built on it. The blockchain nails down history, breaking Orwell’s dictum of “He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future.”
On Bitcoin’s long-term value as a currency:
Here’s footnote 185 [from Assange’s book]: On the day of the conversation [with Eric Schmidt], Bitcoin had risen above the US dollar and reached price parity with the Euro. By early 2014 it had risen to over $1,000, before falling to $430 as other Bitcoin-derived competing crypto-currencies started to take off. WikiLeaks’ strategic investments in the currency saw more than 8,000 percent return in three years, seeing us through the extralegal US banking blockade.
Google and its chairman Eric Schmidt
On what Google could be doing to fight surveillance culture:
I think it is misguided to be looking to Google to help get us out of this mess. In large part, Google has us in this mess. The company’s business model is based on sucking private data out of parts of human community that have never before been subject to monitoring, and turning that into a profit. I do not think it is wise to try to “reform” something which, from first premises, is beyond reform.
On Assange’s personal relationship with Eric Schmidt:
Eric Schmidt is personally likeable in the sense that most billionaires are. You can’t get there without making friends. Obama’s also likable, but runs an extrajudicial kill list each tuesday and has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined. The problem with Google, as in the US administration is not the personalities. It is the structure, the business model and social and ideological matrix in which its decision makers are embedded.
On what countries like Greece should do in dealing with Google:
Your recognition of that visit and what it means is exactly what I was hoping for–simply that people see Google for what it is and when its representatives turn up in Greece or elsewhere they are not falsely perceived to be kindly wizards with hats stuffed with cash but rather understood in the same way that, say, an information pied piper from SAIC might be.
On ISIS and corporate censorship
On terrorist networks like ISIS and what the U.S. should do:
People who argue that ISIS poses a threat to our democracies are out to lunch. ISIS is an ugly phenomenon, but it’s largely the consequence of one blunder after another by the US and its allies in the region, who shouldn’t have been meddling there in the first place. If ISIS poses a threat to anyone, it is to countries in the region, and they are the appropriate parties to address it. If the US and its allies want to reduce “terror” in the region – as Noam Chomsky says – they need to stop participating in it.
On the movie about him, The Fifth Estate:
It is an interesting experience having a $60m attack on your reputation distributed by Disney. It even had a scene in it showing us helping the Iranians explode a nuke until we leaked the script and attacked the producers. The audience could see it was not well intentioned and turned against it. Some of my friends went to see the film, and this was their reaction: We also released our own movie, Mediastan, to compete with the launch of the film. It did well!
On allegations of censorship on Reddit following GamerGate:
It’s pathetic. But censorship by companies controlling privatized political space is now almost a norm. Facebook is implementing its own “laws” for social behavior and politics. Even Twitter has now folded; censoring for example, leaks about the New Zealand prime minister just this week and some time ago banning Anonymous Sweden after a request from that country. High volume publication+control of publication by powerful organisations = censorship, all the time. We have to fight to create new networks of freedom. The old and powerful always become corrupt.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user espenmoe