Apr 11, 2019

Julian Assange's arrest doesn't necessarily mean press freedoms are at stake

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested at Ecuador's London Embassy Thursday after the country withdrew its offer of asylum. The U.S. Department of Justice subsequently released its indictment of Assange — importantly focusing on his technical assistance helping Chelsea Manning hack State Department cables rather than on publishing leaks.

Why it matters: That the indictment focuses on Assange the hacker, not Assange the reporter, blunts a long held press freedom argument that he should not be charged with crimes. All journalists rely on leaks, and many relied on classified information publicized by WikiLeaks, making a river of journalists guilty of the same crimes for which Assange would be prosecuted.

The other side: If charges had been focused on being an intelligence asset of Russia by publishing leaks (they aren't), that'd be a blow to, well, me specifically. I directly received and reported on documents from Guccifer 2.0, the avatar of Russia's hacking efforts in the 2016 election.

The big picture: Assange's previously reported upon activities appear to have gone far beyond journalistic practice into what most reporters would consider criminality. He potentially:

  • Hacked a website of an anti-Trump PAC and shared the password with the Trump campaign.
  • Directed hackers to attack a specific target — transcripts show that a request was brought to those hackers by an intermediary they believed was sent by Assange.
  • Provided hackers with technical assistance in the form of a search algorithm to sift through hacked documents.

The bottom line: All of those things would appear to be illegal. No, it doesn't matter if the password on a website is easy to guess.

Go deeper

George Floyd updates

Protesters gather north of Lafayette Square near the White House during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been rallying in cities across the U.S. and around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd. Huge crowds assembled in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago for full-day events on Saturday.

Why it matters: Twelve days of nationwide protest in the U.S. has built pressure for states to make changes on what kind of force law enforcement can use on civilians and prompted officials to review police conduct. A memorial service was held for Floyd in Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all flags to fly at half-staff to honor him until sunset.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 1,920,061 — Total deaths: 109,802 — Total recoveries: 500,849 — Total tested: 19,778,873Map.
  3. Public health: Why the pandemic is hitting minorities harder — Coronavirus curve rises in FloridaHow racism threatens the response to the pandemic Some people are drinking and inhaling cleaning products in attempt to fight the virus.
  4. Tech: The pandemic is accelerating next-generation disease diagnostics — Robotics looks to copy software-as-a-service model.
  5. Business: Budgets busted by coronavirus make it harder for cities to address inequality Sports, film production in California to resume June 12 after 3-month hiatus.
  6. Education: Students and teachers flunked remote learning.
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In photos: People around the world rally against racism

Despite a ban on large gatherings implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic, protesters rally against racism in front of the American Embassy in Paris on June 6. Photo: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people have continued to rally in cities across the world against racism and show their support this week for U.S. demonstrators protesting the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Why it matters: The tense situation in the U.S. has brought the discussion of racism and discrimination onto the global stage at a time when most of the world is consumed by the novel coronavirus.