(Doha – November 25th) Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia and internet entrepreneur’ told Al Jazeera’s Head to Head that the revelations that the NSA has spied on people are “Incredibly damaging and embarrassing to the US”.
Wales told Head to Head host Mehdi Hasan and an audience at the Oxford Union that President Obama and the US congress should rein in the NSA, which has been accused of archiving and accessing online communications inside and outside the USA: “It makes it very difficult for someone like me to go out as I do speak to people in authoritarian countries and say: You shouldn’t be spying on activists, you shouldn’t be censoring the internet, when we [in the US] are complicit in these acts of extraordinary intrusion into peoples personal lives.
“What is more important is that we have a public debate that we didn’t have before we started doing this. I think if you put it to a vote to the general public, they would have never approved this sweeping surveillance programme, this is something that was rejected decades before when we started thinking about phone tapping. It’s definitely time for a major re-evaluation.”
When asked on his views about whether internet giant Microsoft had collaborated with the NSA, Wales called on the US government to confirm or reject the allegations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden: ““It’s completely outrageous, but only if true. We haven’t established fully if this is true. I trust that in coming months and years security testers will find ways to confirm it or disconfirm it. I think it is time for the government to confirm it or disconfirm it. It’s outrageous, it’s absolutely outrageous.”
Wales hailed Edward Snowden as a “hero” for disclosing the allegations against the NSA: “It’s difficult to have a judgement in such a short period of time on a person I don’t know, and were we don’t know what might appear in the future. But, given everything that I know today, he is a hero. He is a person that has been very careful in the materials that he has leaked, they have been in the abstract, he has never leaked anything that would put any particular agents at risk and so forth. He has exposed what I believe to be, very likely to be judged, criminal wrongdoing, lying to Congress and certainly a shock and an affront, in America, an affront to the 4th amendment. I think that history will judge him very favourably.”
Wales told Mehdi Hasan that despite the fury over the NSA leaks he rejected the idea that Wikipedia will locate their servers outside the USA: ” The US remains a jurisdiction for things like freedom of speech, safeguards for internet companies. We would consider it, for sure, but so far we haven’t seen anything that would make us want to leave the US. There is a growing sense of concern in Congress about this, a growing sense in Congress that public is angry about this, that they have been misled and I think we are going to see legislation to change this – at least if I have anything to do with this, I think we will.””
The interview with Jimmy Wales is part of the second series of Head to Head which Al Jazeera’s forum for ideas, hosted by Mehdi Hasan.
In each episode, Hasan goes head to head with a special guest, asking the probing and hard-hitting questions few dare to ask on the big issues such faith, foreign intervention, the Middle East, US foreign policy, and the economic crisis.
The second series will also interview Irish politician Martin McGuinness, journalist Mona Eltahawy and Israeli politician Shlomo Ben Ami.
The first series of Head to Head which was aired first in June 2013 saw Hasan interview French thinker Bernard Henri-Levy, American writer Thomas Friedman and British financial regulator Lord Adair Turner.
For more information on series two of Head to Head:
All episodes of series one are available online: http://www.aljazeera.com/profile/head-to-head.html
Follow Head to Head on Twitter @AJHeadtoHead