The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 2): focus on a range of Internet-related issues

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 8: Cypherpunks – Part 2)” (Russia Today, 12 June 2012)

Continuing his discussion with Cypherpunks Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jérémie Zimmermann and Jakob Applebaum, Julian Assange plays devil’s advocate over a range of Internet-related issues such as personal privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of economic interactions, copyright issues and “stealing” versus “sharing” music and other cultural items. Assange generally sets the direction of the discussion and the others follow, often spiritedly but always in a friendly manner.

Interesting issues that pop up include a discussion of the systems of cyber-organisation that enable governments to spy on citizens and others and to introduce and use laws that back them up against citizens. The architecture of IT technologies that support communications networks and databases can be used by governments and their agencies to do things that are anti-democratic. Laws themselves may be organised or delineated in such a way as to incriminate innocent people in “wrong-doing”. Economic systems as they are, are discussed with the use of Socratic dialogue (with Assange explaining a scenario and the Cypherpunks guys taking it apart) to explore particular ideas and real-life problems and expose the inequalities that might exist behind them. Another subject is pornography, specifically child pornography, and whether censorship of child pornography on the Internet might actually be doing exploited children a disservice: by seeing child pornography on the Internet, people learn the extent and the scale of the problem, why it is such a problem and, because the problem is out in the open, be able to sympathise with victims and work out ways of overcoming the problem and caring for the victims.

Perhaps because filming four people sitting on sofas around a coffee table just talking about topics that can often appear abstract to most people can be a little boring, the camera crew sometimes focus on Assange eating snacks and puffing on a cigar which can detract a little from the seriousness of the issues under discussion. The filming is done well with appropriate close-ups done where you’d expect them and the camera sometimes taking a bird’s-eye view of proceedings at particular points in the film. Topics flow from one to the other quickly so sometimes it’s difficult to know when discussion of one topic has ended and when another topic is being investigated.

The discussion ends on an uplifting note (and Assange with fat cigar between fingers) with Zimmerman emphasising the importance of the Internet as the one major tool for global democracy that we have and with Applebaum stressing that people wanting to make a difference in the world can build alternative paths towards democracy on the Internet.

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