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Ethical Dilemmas

March 22, 2011

There are two points that keep looping in my mind – one is the article recently carried in The Hindu, an Indian newspaper about Assange (and there is nothing new in that interview either) and the other is this cartoon that has been making the rounds stating “Assange: I give you government secrets for free and I’m a terrorist. Zuckerberg: I sell your private information to corporates for a ton of money and I’m a hero.”

Zuckerberg changed the face of social networking and perhaps the world forever. The way we contact people and relate to people has changed forever, and I can vouch for this personally. But the fact also remains that Facebook has come a long way from what it was supposed to be and is now plagued by corporate honchos and mindsets and stock markets and fat bottomlines. Freedom of speech and all those other rebellious thoughts that Zuckerberg once stood for are gone.

While I never agreed about Assange’s policy of giving out secrets like candies on the street corner, he was doing what we reporters strive to do everyday. Of course, we pay a little more attention to details, accuracy and such sometimes. But the thing is the world needed Assange as much as it needed Zuckerberg. America, as wonderful a country as it is, remains drunk on its own power like any other country. Unfortunately, in America’s case, the power is real.

Their opinions matter, their decisions have the strength to destroy or build a country. Critics might argue that it is changing, but it has not reached a point where the world can take a decision excluding the US. Someone has to make them accountable.

If US had handled this issue in a more dignified manner, the world’s sympathy would’ve probably swung that way. But the force with which they came down on Assange, labeling him a terrorist, cemented whatever vague thoughts the world had about the country.

US has had a bad run in the past few years. First, the war on Afghanistan, then Iraq, and then hints that Iran would be next, with sanctions and such. Of course, Ahmadinejad is no innocent sheep, but what about the millions of people affected by these random decisions? And even as the world burned, George Bush – perhaps the most hated man across the world at that point – was reelected based on issues like abortion and gay rights, making the citizens of the world wonder if the country was even aware of the impact they had globally.

Of course, nobody ever thinks of the global perspective. When I vote, I’m really not thinking if the PM will have a good foreign policy. I’m thinking more in local terms. But the resentment levels against the Americans was rather high, and this just added more fuel.

Assange was the one opportunity to swing the tide… instead the US government called in the SWAT team, called him a terrorist and said nothing would do but to shut him away. I don’t remember reading about any denial of those cables that came out though. Did they ever say they were fake? Would falsely denying them make the US legally liable in some way?

So they accepted these were real, but they just did not like it that someone brought out these secrets into the open.

Should Assange be prosecuted? Perhaps for some of the charges… and definitely if the charges about assault in Sweden are true. Did he do the wrong thing by putting these cables out and several other documents? I’m still on the fence on that but I lean towards ‘i don’t think so’.

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