Journalists and whistleblowers have weighed in on the indictment brought by the US against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, calling the current password-cracking charge “weak,” but setting a dangerous precedent for press freedom.
A statement from the Department of Justice on Wednesday said Assange had been charged for engaging in a conspiracyto crack a password on a Department of Defense computer in order to release classified information. If found guilty, he could face up to five years in prison.
Fellow whistleblower and former CIA employee Edward Snowden said on Twitter that the “weakness of the US charge against Assange is shocking” in that the allegation that Assange and Manning had “tried” to crack the password had been public knowledge for “nearly a decade,” and that the Obama administration’s DOJ had concluded that prosecuting Assange would pose a threat to press freedom.
US media reported on the attempt in 2011. It is not known whether Manning and Assange actually managed to crack the password in question, but the wording of the DOJ statement could suggest that their attempts were unsuccessful.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald also commented on the Obama-era decision, saying that Democrats who have spent two years “feigning concerns over press freedom” in relation to the Trump administration’s attacks on journalists, but who now support the Donald Trump DOJ’s indictment of Assange were “beneath contempt.”
Internet freedom activist Kim Dotcom also weighed in on the potential five-year prison sentence for trying to crack a password. “Is it still April Fool’s Day?” he tweeted, with the hashtag #FreeJulian.
In a further tweet, Dotcom said that the sentence was possibly a “tactic” to tempt Assange to consider swift extradition, but that more and heavier charges likely awaited. “DOJ may have a superseding indictment with more charges ready on arrival. I can tell you from experience DOJ is full of liars and tricksters,” he wrote.