Julian Assange shook the media industry 15 years ago when he established an international non-profit organisation that openly published news leaks and classified information.
This shift changed the nature of whistleblowing and gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "freedom of information".
WikiLeaks describes its goal as “to bring important news and information to the public.”
“One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth,” the website says.
The website, which is not associated with Wikipedia, features an anonymous "drop box", with a goal of ensuring that whistleblowers can submit classified information to the site without fear of prosecution.
On this day day in 2006, the wikileaks.org domain name was registered.
Since its inception, a number of controversial leaks have been published on WikiLeaks.
In November 2007, operating procedures for Guantanamo Bay were published on the site, which showed that the army were keeping prisoners from Red Cross inspectors and holding new prisoners in isolation for two weeks to make them more compliant.
In 2008, sensitive information from the Church of Scientology was featured on the site, including secret Bibles and notes from founder L. Ron Hubbard. The Church threatened legal action following the leak.
In 2009, more than 500,000 confidential messages regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks made their way to WikiLeaks, including exchanges from the Pentagon, the FBI, FEMA and theNYPD, showing their response to the disaster.
In 2010 WikiLeaks releases leaked video from a US helicopter showing an air strike that killed civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.
Later that same year saw the publication of half a million documents relating to the US Iraq and Afghanistan wars being published, which included information about civilian deaths and sensitive data pertaining to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
Famously, a 2016 leak also saw 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails make their way to WikiLeaks, which US intelligence later determined had been stolen by Russian hackers.
The emails showed that Democratic representatives favoured Hillary Clinton over opponent Bernie Sanders, and had provided her with debate questions in advance.
Founding a new media
Townsville-born Julian Assange had always been interested in computers and hacking.
In 1987, at the age of 16, Assange began hacking under the name Mendax, which subsequently put him on the police’s radar.
By 1993, Assange was using his computing skills to help the Victoria Police Child Exploitation Unit to track down individuals responsible for the publishing and distribution of child pornography.
Assange was inspired by Daniel Ellsberg’s 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers, but noted that two years had passed between Ellsber’s "leak" and media coverage.
Seeking to streamline the whistle-blowing process, Assange built a design for WikiLeaks in Australia, but quickly moved servers to Sweden, before expanding to several other countries in response to press-protection laws.
On October 4, 2006 Assange registered wikileaks.org’s domain name and by December, WikiLeaks had published its first document - a decision to assassinate government officials, signed by a prominent Somali political figure.
The International Federation of Journalists has called WikiLeaks a “new breed of media organisation that offers important opportunities for media organisations.”
Even now, 15 years since its inception, WikiLeaks still remains a point of contention with many who cannot agree whether Assange is a champion of the press, or a dangerous threat to national security.
Regardless, Julian Assange has been subject to a number of investigations since the inception of WikiLeaks, and has recently been the target of an alleged kidnapping plot.
Following two sexual assault accusations in Sweden, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 where he sought political asylum.
In April 2019 he left the embassy and was arrested by UK authorities for skipping bail.
He has remained in Belmarsh maximum security prison in London ever since.
The investigation into the sexual assault allegations has now been dropped by Swedish authorities.
In June 2019, the US Justice Department formally asks Britain to extradite Assange to the United States to face charges that he conspired to hack US government computers and violated an espionage law.
In January 2021, a UK court concluded it would be “oppressive” to extradite him to the US because of his frail mental health, saying there was a real risk he would take his own life.
The US has since appealed this ruling and the court case continues and a full appeal hearing is scheduled for October 27.
In spite of the controversy, the WikiLeaks site is still live, and continues to be accessed by millions of people around the world.
with AAP, Reuters
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