Joan Smith: Assange cares for no one but himself

Neither whistleblower nor journalist, the hacker is a menace

Share
Related Topics

Hacking has become one of the biggest stories of 2011, prompting so many arrests, police investigations and public inquiries that it's hard to keep track. The public has cheered on key players, including the actor Hugh Grant and the Labour MP Tom Watson, who have forced the scandal into the open. Strangely, there's another form of hacking, carried out using illegal methods and equally dubious in terms of morality, which millions of people actively support.

It has made an unlikely hero of the man who's become its public face, the Australian hacker Julian Assange, despite copious evidence of his paranoia, misogyny, political incoherence and all-round weirdness. Happily for those of us who have observed this ashen-faced celebrity-magnet with scepticism from the start, Assange has crowned a year of bad-tempered conflicts by falling out with himself and introducing to the language that novelty the "unauthorised autobiography". (I was thinking of writing my own autobiography but I've withdrawn co-operation from myself.)

There's a pleasing irony in the spectacle of someone who wanted to publish so much confidential information trying to suppress a book based on interviews he gave freely to a ghostwriter. But extracts published in The Independent reveal a man whose "struggle for justice through access to knowledge" co-exists with total insensitivity to other people and a profoundly irresponsible desire to make mischief. Early in his hacking career, Assange discovered how to get into the computers of vast corporations: "Turn off 20,000 phone lines in Buenos Aires? No problem."

Hugely amusing, no? Perhaps not if you lived in Buenos Aires, had a heart attack and couldn't call the emergency services. But I'm not convinced that consequences have ever been a major concern for Assange, who recently published 250,000 unredacted US diplomatic cables containing the names of confidential informants in Afghanistan and other countries. True to form, Assange blamed The Guardian, one of his media "partners" until they had a spectacular quarrel. But the limits of his commitment to human rights and democracy were exposed when he asked WikiLeaks' supporters to vote on Twitter for or against release of the cables. (Coming soon on Twitter, an important vote on whether I should have single or double espresso with my carrot cake.)

Assange's campaign for transparency has always sat oddly with his obsessive need for control. He isn't a whistleblower or a journalist, both of whom have to make fine judgements (unless they've succumbed to the hacking scourge) about what the public is entitled to know. It's entirely right that abuses by the US military in Iraq, say, should be exposed. But the notion that diplomats should never have a confidential conversation is risible. Democratic governments need inside information about the regimes they deal with; they need secret negotiations to protect human rights activists and their own citizens, using intermediaries who might be at risk if their involvement were known.

Assange's mission to publish everything from diplomatic gossip to unflattering verdicts on foreign governments is no more justifiable, in moral terms, than blanket tabloid intrusion into private life. His claim to be the "good" hacker has been undermined by poor judgement and the monumental ego that emerges when he mocks his opponents in his autobiography: "They needed a villain with silver hair, some kind of cat-stroking nutcase bent on serial seduction and world domination."

Actually, he's right. That's very unfair to Assange. I've never seen a shred of evidence that the super-hacker likes cats.





www.politicalblonde.com

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - Kent - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: C# and .Net Developer - n...

Guru Careers: Digital Marketing Exec / Online Marketing Executive

£35 - 40k: Guru Careers: Our client has a new role for a Digital Marketing Exe...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Facebook lights up the London Eye with the nation's general election conversations.The London Eye showed the top five most discussed political topics on Facebook. (Colours: Economy - white; Health - purple; Tax - yellow; Europe and Immigration - blue; Crime - red) in London  

Election 2015: Why each party's share of the vote could really matter

Matt Dathan
 

How the French stay so slim while we British balloon can’t ever be reconciled

Rosie Millard
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'