Al Capone didn’t pay taxes, and Julian Assange – apparently – didn’t wear a condom. Both were public enemies and perhaps controversial heroes to a few. They may share the fate of avoiding the wrap they deserved, but earning another in the end. The contrast of the two characters is a good illustration of how the times have changed.
Capone ran an underground empire of liquor, gambling, prostitution and other rackets and was targeted by city cops and the feds. Assange operates on the net to throw geopolitics into tumult, and is now held by one country, openly wanted by another and perhaps not so openly by others.
Assange shows that one rogue on the net can damage our diplomatic efforts and potentially disrupt worldwide political security. The web may the most important and vulnerable shared societal space in the world. Its freedom and safety promise continued dynamism and interconnectivity.
Its ever-increasing vitality to our economic and political infrastructure means that its influence and its openness are not without the risks that we take for granted in the real – as opposed to virtual – worlds. In fifty years, we may look back and see this as one of the first major incidences which brought that reality into view.