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Annotated captions of Julian Assange: Why the world needs WikiLeaks in English

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tedtalks 00:00
00:02

Chris Anderson: Julian, welcome.

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00:04

It's been reported that WikiLeaks, your baby,

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has, in the last few years

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has released more classified documents

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00:11

than the rest of the world's media combined.

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Can that possibly be true?

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Julian Assange: Yeah, can it possibly be true?

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It's a worry -- isn't it? -- that the rest of the world's media

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is doing such a bad job

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that a little group of activists

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is able to release more

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of that type of information

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than the rest of the world press combined.

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CA: How does it work?

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How do people release the documents?

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And how do you secure their privacy?

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JA: So these are -- as far as we can tell --

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classical whistleblowers,

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and we have a number of ways for them

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to get information to us.

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So we use this state-of-the-art encryption

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to bounce stuff around the Internet, to hide trails,

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pass it through legal jurisdictions

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like Sweden and Belgium

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to enact those legal protections.

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We get information in the mail,

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01:02

the regular postal mail,

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encrypted or not,

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vet it like a regular news organization, format it --

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which is sometimes something that's quite hard to do,

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when you're talking about

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giant databases of information --

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release it to the public

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and then defend ourselves

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against the inevitable legal and political attacks.

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CA: So you make an effort to ensure

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the documents are legitimate,

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but you actually

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almost never know who the identity of the source is?

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JA: That's right, yeah. Very rarely do we ever know,

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and if we find out at some stage

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then we destroy that information as soon as possible.

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01:42

(Phone ring) God damn it.

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01:46

(Laughter)

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CA: I think that's the CIA asking what the code is

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01:50

for a TED membership.

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(Laughter)

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01:55

So let's take [an] example, actually.

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01:57

This is something

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you leaked a few years ago.

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If we can have this document up ...

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So this was a story in Kenya a few years ago.

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Can you tell us what you leaked and what happened?

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JA: So this is the Kroll Report.

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This was a secret intelligence report

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commissioned by the Kenyan government

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after its election in 2004.

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Prior to 2004, Kenya was ruled

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by Daniel arap Moi

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for about 18 years.

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He was a soft dictator of Kenya.

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And when Kibaki got into power --

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through a coalition of forces that were trying

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to clean up corruption in Kenya --

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they commissioned this report,

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spent about two million pounds

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on this and an associated report.

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And then the government sat on it

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and used it for political leverage on Moi,

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who was the richest man --

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still is the richest man -- in Kenya.

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It's the Holy Grail of Kenyan journalism.

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So I went there in 2007,

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and we managed to get hold of this

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just prior to the election --

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the national election, December 28.

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When we released that report,

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we did so three days after the new president, Kibaki,

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had decided to pal up with

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the man that he was going to clean out,

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Daniel arap Moi,

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so this report then

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became a dead albatross

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around President Kibaki's neck.

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CA: And -- I mean, to cut a long story short --

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word of the report leaked into Kenya,

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not from the official media, but indirectly,

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and in your opinion, it actually shifted the election.

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JA: Yeah. So this became front page of the Guardian

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and was then printed in all the surrounding countries of Kenya,

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in Tanzanian and South African press.

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And so it came in from the outside.

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And that, after a couple of days,

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made the Kenyan press feel safe to talk about it.

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And it ran for 20 nights straight on Kenyan TV,

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shifted the vote by 10 percent,

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according to a Kenyan intelligence report,

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which changed the result of the election.

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CA: Wow, so your leak

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really substantially changed the world?

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JA: Yep.

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04:10

(Applause)

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CA: Here's -- We're going to just show

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a short clip from this

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Baghdad airstrike video.

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The video itself is longer,

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but here's a short clip.

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This is -- this is intense material, I should warn you.

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Radio: ... just fuckin', once you get on 'em just open 'em up.

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04:31

I see your element, uh, got about four Humvees, uh, out along ...

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04:34

You're clear. All right. Firing.

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Let me know when you've got them. Let's shoot.

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Light 'em all up.

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C'mon, fire!

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04:44

(Machine gun fire)

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Keep shoot 'n. Keep shoot 'n.

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04:50

(Machine gun fire)

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Keep shoot 'n.

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04:55

Hotel ... Bushmaster Two-Six, Bushmaster Two-Six,

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we need to move, time now!

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05:00

All right, we just engaged all eight individuals.

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Yeah, we see two birds [helicopters], and we're still firing.

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Roger. I got 'em.

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Two-Six, this is Two-Six, we're mobile.

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05:09

Oops, I'm sorry. What was going on?

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God damn it, Kyle. All right, hahaha. I hit 'em.

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CA: So, what was the impact of that?

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JA: The impact on the people who worked on it

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was severe.

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We ended up sending two people to Baghdad

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to further research that story.

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So this is just the first of three attacks

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that occurred in that scene.

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CA: So, I mean, 11 people died in that attack, right,

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including two Reuters employees?

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JA: Yeah. Two Reuters employees,

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two young children were wounded.

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There were between 18 and 26 people killed all together.

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CA: And releasing this caused

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widespread outrage.

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What was the key element of this

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that actually caused the outrage, do you think?

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JA: I don't know. I guess people can see

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the gross disparity in force.

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You have guys walking in a relaxed way down the street,

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and then an Apache helicopter sitting up at one kilometer

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firing 30-millimeter cannon shells

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on everyone --

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looking for any excuse to do so --

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and killing people rescuing the wounded.

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And there was two journalists involved that clearly weren't insurgents

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because that's their full-time job.

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CA: I mean, there's been this U.S. intelligence analyst,

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Bradley Manning, arrested,

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and it's alleged that he confessed in a chat room

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to have leaked this video to you,

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along with 280,000

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classified U.S. embassy cables.

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I mean, did he?

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JA: We have denied receiving those cables.

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He has been charged,

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about five days ago,

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with obtaining 150,000 cables

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and releasing 50.

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Now, we had released,

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early in the year,

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a cable from the Reykjavik U.S. embassy,

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but this is not necessarily connected.

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I mean, I was a known visitor of that embassy.

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CA: I mean, if you did receive thousands

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of U.S. embassy diplomatic cables ...

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JA: We would have released them. (CA: You would?)

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JA: Yeah. (CA: Because?)

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JA: Well, because these sort of things

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reveal what the true state

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of, say,

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Arab governments are like,

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the true human-rights abuses in those governments.

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If you look at declassified cables,

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that's the sort of material that's there.

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CA: So let's talk a little more broadly about this.

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I mean, in general, what's your philosophy?

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Why is it right

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to encourage leaking of secret information?

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JA: Well, there's a question as to what sort of information is important in the world,

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what sort of information

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can achieve reform.

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And there's a lot of information.

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So information that organizations

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are spending economic effort into concealing,

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that's a really good signal

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that when the information gets out,

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there's a hope of it doing some good --

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because the organizations that know it best,

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that know it from the inside out,

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are spending work to conceal it.

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And that's what we've found in practice,

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and that's what the history of journalism is.

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CA: But are there risks with that,

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either to the individuals concerned

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or indeed to society at large,

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where leaking can actually have

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an unintended consequence?

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JA: Not that we have seen with anything we have released.

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I mean, we have a harm immunization policy.

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We have a way of dealing with information

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that has sort of personal --

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personally identifying information in it.

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But there are legitimate secrets --

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you know, your records with your doctor;

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that's a legitimate secret --

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but we deal with whistleblowers that are coming forward

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that are really sort of well-motivated.

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CA: So they are well-motivated.

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And what would you say to, for example,

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the, you know, the parent of someone

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whose son is out serving the U.S. military,

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and he says, "You know what,

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you've put up something that someone had an incentive to put out.

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It shows a U.S. soldier laughing

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at people dying.

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That gives the impression, has given the impression,

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to millions of people around the world

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that U.S. soldiers are inhuman people.

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Actually, they're not. My son isn't. How dare you?"

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What would you say to that?

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JA: Yeah, we do get a lot of that.

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But remember, the people in Baghdad,

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the people in Iraq, the people in Afghanistan --

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they don't need to see the video;

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they see it every day.

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So it's not going to change their opinion. It's not going to change their perception.

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That's what they see every day.

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It will change the perception and opinion

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of the people who are paying for it all,

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and that's our hope.

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CA: So you found a way to shine light

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into what you see

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as these sort of dark secrets in companies and in government.

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Light is good.

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But do you see any irony in the fact that,

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in order for you to shine that light,

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you have to, yourself,

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create secrecy around your sources?

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JA: Not really. I mean, we don't have

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any WikiLeaks dissidents yet.

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We don't have sources who are dissidents on other sources.

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Should they come forward, that would be a tricky situation for us,

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but we're presumably acting in such a way

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that people feel

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morally compelled

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to continue our mission, not to screw it up.

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CA: I'd actually be interested, just based on what we've heard so far --

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I'm curious as to the opinion in the TED audience.

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You know, there might be a couple of views

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of WikiLeaks and of Julian.

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You know, hero -- people's hero --

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bringing this important light.

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Dangerous troublemaker.

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Who's got the hero view?

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Who's got the dangerous troublemaker view?

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JA: Oh, come on. There must be some.

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CA: It's a soft crowd, Julian, a soft crowd.

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We have to try better. Let's show them another example.

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Now here's something that you haven't yet leaked,

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but I think for TED you are.

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I mean it's an intriguing story that's just happened, right?

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What is this?

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JA: So this is a sample of what we do

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sort of every day.

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So late last year -- in November last year --

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there was a series of well blowouts

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in Albania,

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like the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico,

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but not quite as big.

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And we got a report --

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a sort of engineering analysis into what happened --

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saying that, in fact, security guards

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from some rival, various competing oil firms

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had, in fact, parked trucks there and blown them up.

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And part of the Albanian government was in this, etc., etc.

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And the engineering report

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had nothing on the top of it,

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so it was an extremely difficult document for us.

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We couldn't verify it because we didn't know

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who wrote it and knew what it was about.

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So we were kind of skeptical that maybe it was

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a competing oil firm just sort of playing the issue up.

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So under that basis, we put it out and said,

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"Look, we're skeptical about this thing.

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We don't know, but what can we do?

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The material looks good, it feels right,

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but we just can't verify it."

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And we then got a letter

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just this week

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from the company who wrote it,

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wanting to track down the source --

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(Laughter)

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saying, "Hey, we want to track down the source."

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And we were like, "Oh, tell us more.

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What document is it, precisely, you're talking about?

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Can you show that you had legal authority over that document?

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Is it really yours?"

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12:39

So they sent us this screen shot

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with the author

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in the Microsoft Word ID.

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Yeah.

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12:53

(Applause)

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That's happened quite a lot though.

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This is like one of our methods

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of identifying, of verifying, what a material is,

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is to try and get these guys to write letters.

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CA: Yeah. Have you had information

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from inside BP?

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JA: Yeah, we have a lot, but I mean, at the moment,

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we are undergoing a sort of serious fundraising and engineering effort.

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So our publication rate

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over the past few months

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has been sort of minimized

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while we're re-engineering our back systems

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for the phenomenal public interest that we have.

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That's a problem.

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I mean, like any sort of growing startup organization,

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we are sort of overwhelmed

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by our growth,

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and that means we're getting enormous quantity

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of whistleblower disclosures

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of a very high caliber

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but don't have enough people to actually

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process and vet this information.

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CA: So that's the key bottleneck,

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13:48

basically journalistic volunteers

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and/or the funding of journalistic salaries?

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JA: Yep. Yeah, and trusted people.

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I mean, we're an organization

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that is hard to grow very quickly

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because of the sort of material we deal with,

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14:02

so we have to restructure

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in order to have people

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who will deal with the highest national security stuff,

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and then lower security cases.

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CA: So help us understand a bit about you personally

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and how you came to do this.

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14:16

And I think I read that as a kid

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14:19

you went to 37 different schools.

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14:21

Can that be right?

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14:24

JA: Well, my parents were in the movie business

tedtalks 14:24
14:26

and then on the run from a cult,

tedtalks 14:26
14:28

so the combination between the two ...

tedtalks 14:28
14:32

(Laughter)

tedtalks 14:32
14:34

CA: I mean, a psychologist might say

tedtalks 14:34
14:37

that's a recipe for breeding paranoia.

tedtalks 14:37
14:39

JA: What, the movie business?

tedtalks 14:39
14:42

(Laughter)

tedtalks 14:42
14:45

(Applause)

tedtalks 14:45
14:47

CA: And you were also -- I mean,

tedtalks 14:47
14:49

you were also a hacker at an early age

tedtalks 14:49
14:52

and ran into the authorities early on.

tedtalks 14:52
14:55

JA: Well, I was a journalist.

tedtalks 14:55
14:57

You know, I was a very young journalist activist at an early age.

tedtalks 14:57
14:59

I wrote a magazine,

tedtalks 14:59
15:02

was prosecuted for it when I was a teenager.

tedtalks 15:02
15:04

So you have to be careful with hacker.

tedtalks 15:04
15:06

I mean there's like -- there's a method

tedtalks 15:06
15:08

that can be deployed for various things.

tedtalks 15:08
15:10

Unfortunately, at the moment,

tedtalks 15:10
15:12

it's mostly deployed by the Russian mafia

tedtalks 15:12
15:14

in order to steal your grandmother's bank accounts.

tedtalks 15:14
15:17

So this phrase is not,

tedtalks 15:17
15:19

not as nice as it used to be.

tedtalks 15:19
15:21

CA: Yeah, well, I certainly don't think

tedtalks 15:21
15:24

you're stealing anyone's grandmother's bank account,

tedtalks 15:24
15:26

but what about

tedtalks 15:26
15:28

your core values?

tedtalks 15:28
15:31

Can you give us a sense of what they are

tedtalks 15:31
15:33

and maybe some incident in your life

tedtalks 15:33
15:36

that helped determine them?

tedtalks 15:38
15:40

JA: I'm not sure about the incident.

tedtalks 15:40
15:43

But the core values:

tedtalks 15:43
15:46

well, capable, generous men

tedtalks 15:46
15:48

do not create victims;

tedtalks 15:48
15:50

they nurture victims.

tedtalks 15:50
15:52

And that's something from my father

tedtalks 15:52
15:55

and something from other capable, generous men

tedtalks 15:55
15:58

that have been in my life.

tedtalks 15:58
16:00

CA: Capable, generous men do not create victims;

tedtalks 16:00
16:02

they nurture victims?

tedtalks 16:02
16:04

JA: Yeah. And you know,

tedtalks 16:04
16:08

I'm a combative person,

tedtalks 16:08
16:10

so I'm not actually so big on the nurture,

tedtalks 16:10
16:13

but some way --

tedtalks 16:13
16:16

there is another way of nurturing victims,

tedtalks 16:16
16:19

which is to police perpetrators

tedtalks 16:19
16:21

of crime.

tedtalks 16:21
16:23

And so that is something

tedtalks 16:23
16:25

that has been in my character

tedtalks 16:25
16:27

for a long time.

tedtalks 16:27
16:30

CA: So just tell us, very quickly in the last minute, the story:

tedtalks 16:30
16:33

what happened in Iceland?

tedtalks 16:33
16:36

You basically published something there,

tedtalks 16:36
16:39

ran into trouble with a bank,

tedtalks 16:39
16:41

then the news service there

tedtalks 16:41
16:44

was injuncted from running the story.

tedtalks 16:44
16:46

Instead, they publicized your side.

tedtalks 16:46
16:49

That made you very high-profile in Iceland. What happened next?

tedtalks 16:49
16:51

JA: Yeah, this is a great case, you know.

tedtalks 16:51
16:53

Iceland went through this financial crisis.

tedtalks 16:53
16:55

It was the hardest hit of any country in the world.

tedtalks 16:55
16:57

Its banking sector was 10 times the GDP

tedtalks 16:57
16:59

of the rest of the economy.

tedtalks 16:59
17:02

Anyway, so we release this report

tedtalks 17:02
17:05

in July last year.

tedtalks 17:05
17:07

And the national TV station was injuncted

tedtalks 17:07
17:09

five minutes before it went on air,

tedtalks 17:09
17:11

like out of a movie: injunction landed on the news desk,

tedtalks 17:11
17:13

and the news reader was like,

tedtalks 17:13
17:15

"This has never happened before. What do we do?"

tedtalks 17:15
17:17

Well, we just show the website instead,

tedtalks 17:17
17:20

for all that time, as a filler,

tedtalks 17:20
17:22

and we became very famous in Iceland,

tedtalks 17:22
17:25

went to Iceland and spoke about this issue.

tedtalks 17:25
17:27

And there was a feeling in the community

tedtalks 17:27
17:29

that that should never happen again,

tedtalks 17:29
17:31

and as a result,

tedtalks 17:31
17:33

working with Icelandic politicians

tedtalks 17:33
17:35

and some other international legal experts,

tedtalks 17:35
17:37

we put together a new sort of

tedtalks 17:37
17:40

package of legislation for Iceland

tedtalks 17:40
17:43

to sort of become an offshore haven

tedtalks 17:43
17:46

for the free press,

tedtalks 17:46
17:49

with the strongest journalistic protections in the world,

tedtalks 17:49
17:51

with a new Nobel Prize

tedtalks 17:51
17:53

for freedom of speech.

tedtalks 17:53
17:55

Iceland's a Nordic country,

tedtalks 17:55
17:58

so, like Norway, it's able to tap into the system.

tedtalks 17:58
18:00

And just a month ago,

tedtalks 18:00
18:03

this was passed by the Icelandic parliament unanimously.

tedtalks 18:03
18:05

CA: Wow.

tedtalks 18:05
18:11

(Applause)

tedtalks 18:11
18:13

Last question, Julian.

tedtalks 18:13
18:15

When you think of the future then,

tedtalks 18:15
18:17

do you think it's more likely to be

tedtalks 18:17
18:19

Big Brother exerting more control,

tedtalks 18:19
18:21

more secrecy,

tedtalks 18:21
18:23

or us watching

tedtalks 18:23
18:25

Big Brother,

tedtalks 18:25
18:28

or it's just all to be played for either way?

tedtalks 18:28
18:30

JA: I'm not sure which way it's going to go.

tedtalks 18:30
18:32

I mean, there's enormous pressures

tedtalks 18:32
18:35

to harmonize freedom of speech legislation

tedtalks 18:35
18:38

and transparency legislation around the world --

tedtalks 18:38
18:40

within the E.U.,

tedtalks 18:40
18:42

between China and the United States.

tedtalks 18:42
18:45

Which way is it going to go? It's hard to see.

tedtalks 18:45
18:47

That's why it's a very interesting time to be in --

tedtalks 18:47
18:49

because with just a little bit of effort,

tedtalks 18:49
18:52

we can shift it one way or the other.

tedtalks 18:52
18:55

CA: Well, it looks like I'm reflecting the audience's opinion

tedtalks 18:55
18:57

to say, Julian, be careful,

tedtalks 18:57
18:59

and all power to you.

tedtalks 18:59
19:01

JA: Thank you, Chris. (CA: Thank you.)

tedtalks 19:01
19:11

(Applause)