Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks who has disclosed scores of classified data about U.S. military and diplomatic efforts, said the group would be releasing a new batch of secret information.
Assange, speaking through a video feed today to a crowd of more than 3,000 people at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, said he wouldn’t share details about the timing or contents of the data because he doesn’t want to give the subjects a chance to prepare a response.
“I don’t think it’s right to give the perpetrator the heads up,” said Assange.
Assange is one of several speakers at the conference who is focused on Internet privacy and online security. After years of being an event for celebrating startups with new social-networking tools for posting personal information, South by Southwest this year is taking a more critical look at the privacy consequences of sharing that data. Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked documents disclosing spying by the National Security Agency, speaks on March 10 through a video link.
Assange, 42, said the disclosures about NSA spying are causing people to reassess the role of government in a world where an increasing amount of personal information is stored online. He said the U.S. agency is losing the public-relations battle since the revelations from Snowden about gathering data from companies such as Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. The disclosures show a “military occupation” in the Internet’s “public space,” he said.
He said the release of classified information is critical to better understanding of the practices the government is doing in secret. He also said the NSA doesn’t face enough oversight from President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Who really wears the pants in the administration?” Assange said.
Wikileaks, which started in 2006, leaks classified documents under a philosophy of increasing government transparency. With help from people who have access to secret information, the nonprofit group has released materials including State Department communications about foreign governments and military efforts during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One U.S. soldier, private Bradley Manning, is serving as long as 35 years in prison for leaking classified information to Wikileaks.
Assange currently lives in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid arrest in relation to a sexual assault investigation. He has denied the charges.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said earlier in the conference that there needs to be a balance between transparency and security because the government information being disclosed could put lives at risk. He also said the disclosures have made Assange and Snowden “celebrities” and may spawn copycat efforts, increasing the risk for harm if the disclosures aren’t done carefully.