What I think might happen is that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in particular would emerge as leaders of a new political “geek” movement that would be built on the principles of absolute “Internet freedom,” transparency, very permissive copyright law, and so on. This movement has already been brewing globally – especially in Europe, where various local cells of the Pirate Party have proved remarkably strong. It’s quite possible that the “hunt for WikiLeaks” would further radicalize young people and make them join the fight for the “Free Internet,” however they choose to interpret.
This may be wonderful news – especially if they renounce violence and start participating in mainstream politics instead, thus becoming something of a digital equivalent to the Green Movement in Europe. The other option, alas, is far less amenable: It’s possible that if Assange is really treated badly and unjustly by the authorities – and possibly even tried like a “terrorist” as some prominent US politicians have suggested – this would nudge the movement toward violent forms of resistance. Given that many of these people are tech-literate and that more and more of our public infrastructure is digital, this could be a significant impediment to the growth of the global economy: Just think of the potential losses if Visa and MasterCard cannot process online payments because of some mysterious cyberattacks on their servers.