He addressed his audience from a distance of 4,175 miles in London, but it didn’t seem to matter. All eyes were fixed on the giant screen from which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange smiled shyly at his audience in the Durbar Hall of Taj Palace.
Assange spoke against a backdrop of upside down Visa and PayPal logos representative of the protest against an international squeeze on WikiLeaks funding. Assange started WikiLeaks in 2006 with a group of web-savvy friends to create a web-based whistle-blowing red letterbox for anonymous leakers.
And while it has been leaking material from several countries, WikiLeaks caused an uproar in India in March this year when it released an alleged US embassy cable that talked of chests of cash to be used as bribe for MPs ahead of the Parliament vote on the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Addressing the session Democracy and WikiLeaks: The Trickledown Effect, he painted the grim side of the present information age.
In grave tones, accompanied by hand movements mimicking the flow and overflow of information, he spoke about how governments worldwide were curbing personal liberty, privacy and free speech, by misusing technology.
“Bulk surveillance of entire nations is on,” said Assange whose WikiLeaks is today synonymous with high-profile exposés and revelations.
In more specific terms, he spoke of the Chinese “sucking out” e-mails of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, a German firm tempting governments to buy its military surveillance tools with the added bait that the same could also be used to spy on political rivals, and (unnamed) governments terrorising employees to promote secrecy.
India, however, came in for praise. He said India was relatively safe from threats posed by new age spying. He praised the Right to Information Act, the legislation that makes it mandatory for the government to share information. Assange also said Islamic terror was being used as a cover for unlawful interceptions.
Assange is currently in London where he is under house arrest. He was arrested in December 2010 on an European warrant when he got embroiled in a rape and molestation case. The claims surfaced after he visited Sweden in August 2010 and relate to sexual encounters with two women. He will apply to the UK Supreme Court on Monday against his extradition to Sweden.