The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Saturday told an audience of thousands at South by Southwest Interactive festival via Skype that “We are all part of what we would traditionally call the state, whether we like it or not. We now have no choice but to attempt to manage the behavior of the state.”
Speaking remotely from his sanctuary in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, Assange touched upon a number of issues including government surveillance, online democracy and the future of the Internet.
“It is a bit like prison. Arguably prison is far worse in relation to restrictions on visitors, for example, and the level of bureaucracy involved,” he said on his life within the embassy (which has about a dozen police officers stationed outside at any given point).
Sharing his views on what steps should governments take (after the NSA revelations) about the way surveillance agencies interact with people, Assange said: “The NSA has grown to be a rogue agency. It has grown to be unfettered … the ability to surveil everyone on the planet is almost there, and arguably will be there within a few years. And that’s led to a huge transfer of power from the people who are surveilled upon, to those who control the surveillance complex.”
He went on to suggest that if President Barack Obama ever attempted to disband the agency, he would be toppled politically.
“They would come up with all of this dirt (on Obama),” he said. “Congress may impeach him … a criminal act would come to light.”
He even complained about the way Internet titans such as Facebook and Google are collecting data about their users. “What is going on is an unprecedented theft of wealth from the majority of the population by those who already have a lot of power,” said Assange.
“They’re doing that in part by stealing information from all of us. Knowledge is power, and so they’re accumulating a lot of power.”
“The Internet four years ago was a politically apathetic space, but whenever you start to engage in any space, you run into state powers, you run into the deep state,” he said, noting that exceptions included the Anonymous group.
“Many people developed a sense that this space that they had enjoyed, the place where people communicated ideas [was] where all their friends were; [it was] their community’s interface with the regular power community of what we might call the geriatric quo: the old men with guns who control all the money.
“That spread out in different places in different ways, not just because of our [Wikileaks’] efforts, but through others as well. Through the Arab Spring, though Occupy … and the Internet became a political space.”