It seems in the process of doing research for his upcoming book, Google chairperson Eric Schmidt took at trip to the UK to have a chat with Julian Assange. Today Wikileaks published the transcript of a five hour interview conducted with its founder, claiming the “secret meeting” occurred in June 2011 while Assange was under house arrest.
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It’s billed as a meeting between Assange and Google’s CEO, but that isn’t technically true — Schmidt handed the reins back to co-founder Larry Page in April 2011, but has stayed on as executive chairman since then. According to the transcript, the meeting also involved Jared Cohen, Google’s ideas director, who is co-authoring the upcoming book ‘The New Digital World’ with Schmidt, as well as Lisa Shields from the Council for Foreign Relations.
The release of the transcript was
suspiciously timed to slightly pre-empt the the launch of the book, which is available for pre-order and set for release on April 23. In the document, Schmidt, Cohen and Assange discuss everything from the technical architecture of Wikileaks and censorship to the costs of negative publicity and its role in the Arab Spring.
At one point, Assange tries to explain the reason the whistle-blowing network finds it so important to share information, even though governments say disclosing classified information puts citizens at risk:
If we look at the attacks on us, they always talk about the words “placed people at risk.” But risk relative to what? Right now we are at risk of a meteorite passing through the roof of this house and killing us all. That is a risk that is true. But is it a proportionate risk? Is it a risk that is significant enough that it is even worth speaking about? Well, the answer is no. Similarly with the word possibility. There is a possibility that a meterorite could descend on us all in this moment, but it is not a probability. So these rhetorical tricks are often used by people who are making their argument in relation to security.
Assange also speaks about Wikileaks’ influenced on the revolution in Tunisia and the outcome of the Kenyan presidential elections in 2007, and theorises about the effect it would have had on the Rwandan genocide if the organisation had been around in 1994. Schmidt queries why Wikileaks does not get more “anonymous USB drives about the bad documents in African countries that are run by these evil dictator types”, to which Assange replies that they do get a lot of information, but in general, they are not as networked and many do not write documents in English.
Towards the end of the interview, the Wikileaks founder says he “wouldn’t mind a leak from Google” about the requests it gets under the PATRIOT act, which Schmidt refuses as they would be illegal. But he does say he’ll pass on a request that Wikileaks should be legally informed about the requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The full transcript is available here.