Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks and its most visible champion, is under house arrest on a beautiful country estate in the east of England. He's wanted for questioning in Sweden in relation to complaints of sexual assault.

In my day to day work life, I'm a proponent of open government. More open data, more open governance, more open, more open, more open. But clearly there are limits*. But where those limits are is not clear. People like Julian Assange and other open government activists are playing an important role in campaigning for more openness. They are muck-rakers and there can't be significant change without stirring up a little muck.

But how much muck is too much? And oughtn't there be a little discrimination in the muck that's stirred? When millions of cables are released, there's no way either the leakers or the publishers of leaks can have read them all or made a decision about the value, importance or rightness of releasing the information. My natural instinct, even as a proponent of openness, was that this was wrong because it lacked thought. And wikileaks has a history of publishing data without sensitivity, failing to redact individual names, even in cases where being identified might mean death.

Having listened to an interview with Julian Assange this morning on BBC Radio 4, I can see how the organisation is, as ever, a reflection of its leadership. Mr Assange apparently lacks discretion or sensitivity.

I don't know the details or the truth of the allegations of sexual assault. But I do know this: Julian Assange is a prick. A prick either without much sense of irony or a supreme sense of irony (my organisations does not encourage leaks, he says - and that organisation is called, ummm - WikiLeaks). When Mr Assange and his legal representatives complained of his personal information being leaked by the Swedish prosecutors, I had to do a double take.

But his claims this morning that having to be electronically tagged as part of his bail conditions was 'emasculating', really took my breath away. Yes, that's right - the primary concern here is his healthy sense of masculinity. And he seems to dismiss the seriousness of the allegations by suggesting this is all just a big misunderstanding - that his alleged victims were in a 'tizzy'. Silly women. Clearly, they must be confused, don't they know what a privilege it is to be assanged? After all, many other women have been very 'generous' to him. How many we don't know, as a "gentleman doesn't tell." As one Tweeter observed, a gentleman may not tell or count, but a gentleman DOES wear a condom when requested.

All heroes, perhaps especially revolutionary heroes, are necessarily flawed characters. It does take an enormous sense of self to take audacious risks like those Mr Assange has taken. I still believe that openness is important and work to support it every day, but I can't help but think that the more the founder of WikiLeaks exposes himself, the less helpful he is to the cause of openness.

*and yes I do recognise the irony of preaching openness from a pseudonymous blog. But this isn't a secret blog, it's just an approach I take to help me keep my work and personal lives a little separate.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Yes! With you on this, too ...