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How WikiLeaks Opened Our Eyes to the Illusion of Freedom

Julian Assange, now in exile in Ecuador, has blown apart the illusion of Western liberty.
 
 
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We remember anniversaries that mark the important events of our era: September 11 (not only the 2001 Twin Towers attack, but also the 1973 military coup against Allende in Chile), D-day, etc. Maybe another date should be added to this list: 19 June.

Most of us like to take a stroll during the day to get a breath of fresh air. There must be a good reason for those who cannot do it – maybe they have a job that prevents it (miners, submariners), or a strange illness that makes exposure to sunlight a deadly danger. Even prisoners get their daily hour's walk in fresh air.

Today, 19 June, marks two years since  Julian Assange was deprived of this right: he is permanently confined to the apartment that houses the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Were he to step out of the apartment, he would be arrested immediately. What did Assange do to deserve this? In a way, one can understand the authorities: Assange and his whistleblowing colleagues are often accused of being traitors, but they are something much worse (in the eyes of the authorities).

Assange designated himself a "spy for the people". "Spying for the people" is not a simple betrayal (which would instead mean acting as a double agent, selling our secrets to the enemy); it is something much more radical. It undermines the very principle of spying, the principle of secrecy, since its goal is to make secrets public. People who help WikiLeaks are no longer whistleblowers who denounce the illegal practices of private companies (banks, and tobacco and oil companies) to the public authorities; they denounce to the wider public these public authorities themselves.

We didn't really learn anything from WikiLeaks we didn't already presume to be true – but it is one thing to know it in general and another to get concrete data. It is a little bit like knowing that one's sexual partner is playing around. One can accept the abstract knowledge of it, but pain arises when one learns the steamy details, when one gets pictures of what they were doing.

When confronted with such facts, should every decent US citizen not feel deeply ashamed? Until now, the attitude of the average citizen was hypocritical disavowal: we preferred to ignore the dirty job done by secret agencies. From now on, we can't pretend we don't know.

It is not enough to see WikiLeaks as an anti-American phenomenon. States such as China and Russia are much more oppressive than the US. Just imagine what would have happened to someone like Chelsea Manning in a Chinese court. In all probability, there would be no public trial; she would just disappear.

The US doesn't treat prisoners as brutally – because of its technological priority, it simply does not need the openly brutal approach (which it is more than ready to apply when needed). But this is why the US is an even more dangerous threat to our freedom than China: its measures of control are not perceived as such, while Chinese brutality is openly displayed.

In a country such as China the limitations of freedom are clear to everyone, with no illusions about it. In the US, however, formal freedoms are guaranteed, so that most individuals experience their lives as free and are not even aware of the extent to which they are controlled by state mechanisms. Whistleblowers do something much more important than stating the obvious by way of denouncing the openly oppressive regimes: they render public the unfreedom that underlies the very situation in which we experience ourselves as free.