‘Facebook is the most appalling spying machine ever invented,’ says Assange

Despite desperately fighting off a Swedish extradiction order from the United Kingdom, Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange has still managed to find time to sit down with the world’s media. He however has chosen to ignore the traditional and expected choices of news-networks such as the BBC or CNN for lesser knowns such as India’s NDTV.

In his latest interview, with RT, a 24-hour Russian English-language satellite news channel, the Wikileaks co-founder yet again managed to make some rather interesting comments.

The interview which RT billed as Assange hinting to his being in possession of even further damaging information yet to be released, turned out, as is the norm with Assange interviews to touch on a number of different matters.

In the 13 minute long interview, amongst other issues, Assange touched on the recent revolutionary movements in the Middle East, the philosophy of Wikileaks (as opposed to those of his former partners now opponents, The New York Times and The Guardian) and his extradition, though not the sexual assault charges he faces.

He of course also spoke about Wikileaks’ latest batch of releases, the very damning Guantanamo Files. Interestingly he didn’t speak about how Wikileaks was effectively ‘wikileaked’ by the New York Times in this matter when the Guardian chose to leak the papers to the New York Times.

By far the most interesting comments in the interview came right at the beginning, when Assange was asked to give his opinions on the role social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter had played in the revolutions in the Middle East. Assange replied as follows:

“Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented. Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence. Facebook, Google, Yahoo, all these major US organisations have built-in interfaces for US Intelligence.

It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena, they have an interface they have developed for US Intelligence to use. Now, is it the case that Facebook is actually run by US Intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US Intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure to them and it’s costly for them to hand out records, one by one, so they have automated the process. Everyone should understand that when they add their friends to Facebook they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies in building this database for them.”

As interesting as Assange’s views are, supported by a recent leak of an alleged confidential Facebook guideline for law enforcement on its policy on subpoenas, verified facts tell a different story.

As Forbes points out that whilst it may be true that increasingly law enforcement is looking to Facebook and other social networks as a tool to gather evidence and some companies, particularly Sprint, the US’ third largest cellphone network, have created automated tools by which governments can do so, most have resisted any such moves.

In fact, Assange himself having profited — by gaining proof that the US government does want to extradite him, proof he mentions in the interview — from Twitter’s attempt to fight off a US government subpoena of his details should know this.

Facebook in particular has wanted to test the waters on this matter for some time. Its deputy general counsel, Mark Howitson, in 2010 made mention of how the company wanted a test-case to clarify what their company’s duty was with protecting users privacy. In part — as this is a civil matter — this test-case has come in the form of an attempt to overturn a ruling in a Sacramento gang case based on what a juror wrote in a Facebook status. The social networking giant, is fighting to not turn over the status updates on the grounds of protecting their users internet privacy.

However, as Facebook explained to Forbes, “We don’t respond to pressure, we respond to compulsory legal process… There has never been a time we have been pressured to turn over data — we fight every time we believe the legal process is insufficient. The legal standards for compelling a company to turn over data are determined by the laws of the country, and we respect that standard.”

You can watch Assange’s interview here.

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