Julian Assange and Eric Schmidt talk email, leaks, and politics
Late last week, WikiLeaks released the full transcript of a five-hour meeting between Google honcho Eric Schmidt and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The cordial and casual meeting took place in 2011 at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, UK, where Assange was under house arrest, awaiting a decision on his extradition case. The purpose of the visit was for Schmidt to gather background materials for his book, The New Digital Age, which comes out on Tuesday, April 23.
One of the more entertaining revelations from the chat was Assange telling the founder of Gmail that he does not actually use email; he prefers to use encrypted SMS text messaging. And somewhere in Washington, an FBI agent slumps in his chair as he realizes his last three years of work were a complete waste.
In addition to snubbing Google's email hegemony, Assange lays out the political philosophy behind WikiLeaks, and how that philosophy informed the information architecture, shaping the organization as it grew. Indeed, this conversation could have been a missing chapter in Assange's own book Cypherpunks; it explains his political philosophy more clearly and more succinctly than that rather rambling effort managed in nearly 200 pages.
He also took the opportunity to hint that he wouldn't mind seeing a few leaks from Google, in particular the requests for law enforcement access to accounts under the Patriot Act. Schmidt declined, citing the illegality of revealing that information, and in that single exchange you have the entire history and future of WikiLeaks neatly illustrated.
Why WikiLeaks chose to release this transcript now is anyone's guess, but the move can't have pleased Schmidt and his co-author Jared Cohen, formerly an advisor to Hillary Clinton. It does have a whiff of thunder-stealing about it. According to Foreign Policy, which had an advance copy of the book, Schmidt claims that the only reason WikiLeaks redacted its releases at all was to escape financial retribution, and says that Assange would rather have released the information unedited. If Assange and his team knew this revelation was coming, they may have want to release the largely positive transcript to get ahead of the news cycle and "inoculate" against this negative image.