SXSW: Julian Assange Says Living in Ecuadorian Embassy Is 'Like Prison'

Julian Assange
Julian Assange
 Oli Scarff/Getty Images

What is it like to live inside an embassy? 

Julian Assange addressed the topic during a Skype conversation with Benjamin Palmer of The Barbarian Group at SXSW in Austin. Assange, who has been a political refugee inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 2012, said it's "a bit like prison" because he's confined inside and is surrounded by police surveillance, though he acknowledged that prisoners have it much worse. 

The WikiLeaks founder also spoke at length about national security and Internet privacy during the occasionally buggy Skype conversation. At one point, the conversation turned to fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden and his leak of thousands of classified documents about surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. Assange said that it worked to the media's benefit that the NSA did not have a public relations plan following the leak. 

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"The response to press reports was to not respond," he said. "The White House's actions in trying to crush Edward Snowden grew to such volume that it couldn’t be ignored. … To some degree, these people who've been trying for years to call attention to this phenomenon of state overreach -- we got lucky because we ended up with an opponent that didn't really have a PR strategy except to not exist at all." 

He went on to say the politicization of the Internet over the last five years is the most important development in the last 10 years. Assange also touched on the conflict in Ukraine, saying that "Ukraine is very dear to my heart. I've spent time in the Ukraine, and I've got extremely good friends there."

When asked about WikiLeaks, he said that the platform has some important leaks coming up but declined to specify, explaining: "I don't like to give time frames because it tends to give the opponents of that material more time to prepare their spin lines." 

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Assange also addressed the 2010 leak of U.S. military documents that put WikiLeaks on the map. "A degree of pressure and perceived pressure rained down on our organization and me, personally, that caused a change in people's behavior. And it meant, for example, that individuals that normally you could trust couldn't be trusted."

When asked if he was afraid, Assange responded, "Perhaps I feel the fear more keenly." 

Assange has been the subject of several films, including the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Fifth Estate and the Alex Gibney documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

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