Wikileaks releases a fascinating secret chat between Eric Schmidt and Julian Assange

Julian Assange Wikileaks

What would a lengthy conversation between Google’s chairman and Wikileak’s controversial head honcho reveal?

Now you can find out for yourself. Wikileaks has published the full transcript of a secret five-hour chat between Eric Schmidt and Julian Assange that took place in June of 2011.

The conversation was a part of research for Schmidt’s latest book, The New Digital Age, which is conveniently going on sale this Tuesday. Also in attendance was Jared Cohen, a former Secretary of State advisor to Hillary Clinton, who co-wrote the book with Schmidt.

It’s a lengthy discussion, with topics ranging from Bitcoin (which Assange had to explain to Schmidt) to the Patriot Act. There’s a lot to dive into, but here are some choice bits:

Eric Schmidt and Tor

In this early exchange, Schmidt has a little mixup between Tor, the anonymizing web browsing technology, and Thor, the Norse god of thunder.

Eric Schmidt: Can we start… I want to talk a little about Thor. Right. The sort of, the whole Navy network and…

Julian Assange: Tor or Thor?

ES: Yeah, actually I mean Tor. Uh…

JA: And Odin as well.

ES: That’s right, sorry. Tor, uh, and the Navy network, and I don’t actually understand how all of that worked. And the reason I’m mentioning this is I’m…I’m fundamentally interested in what happens with that technology as it evolves.

On Bitcoin

A year ago, Bitcoin wasn’t making the headlines it is today. Back then it was still an experimental currency that mostly attracted geeks and anarchists. Wikileaks began accepting Bitcoin donations in June 2011, around the time this interview took place. Here it’s intriguing to see how Assange is approaching Bitcoins as a new form of currency, while Schmidt, one of the smartest people in technology, doesn’t even have a clue.

JA: On the publishing end, the magnet links and so on are starting to come up. There’s also a very nice little paper that I’ve seen in relation to Bitcoin, that… you know about Bitcoin?

ES: No.

JA: Okay, Bitcoin is something that evolved out of the cypherpunks a couple of years ago, and it is an alternative… it is a stateless currency.

JA: And very important, actually. It has a few problems. But its innovations exceed its problems. Now there has been innovations along these lines in many different paths of digital currencies, anonymous, untraceable etc. People have been experimenting with over the past 20 years. The Bitcoin actually has the balance and incentives right, and that is why it is starting to take off. The different combination of these things. No central nodes. It is all point to point. One does not need to trust any central mint….

On the Patriot Act

Here, Assange slyly asks Schmidt to leak all of the PATRIOT Act requests from law enforcement and government agencies for Google’s user data. Google typically reveals the number of data requests it receives from governments in its Transparency Report, but it would be illegal for the company to reveal the specific requests.

JA: We wouldn’t mind a leak from Google, which would be, I think probably all the PATRIOT Act requests.

ES: I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time on this question. Because I am in great trouble because I have given a series of criticisms about PATRIOT 1 and PATRIOT 2. Because I think they’re… because they’re non transparent. You know, because the judge’s orders are hidden and so on. And the answer… the answer is that the laws are quite clear about Google and the US. We couldn’t do it. It would be illegal.

JA: So we’re fighting this case now, with Twitter, we’ve done three court hearings now, trying to get the names of the other companies that fulfilled the subpoenas for the grand jury in the US. Twitter resisted and so that’s how some of us became aware. They argued that we should be told that there was a subpoena. I wasn’t told, but…

ES: I can certainly pass on your request to our general counsel.

Photo: New Media Days/Flickr

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