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Hotspot Vigilantes Are Trying to Beam the Internet to Julian Assange

Have-a-go hotspotters are not happy with Ecuador's WiFi decisions.

by Ben Sullivan
Oct 20 2016, 6:45pm

Assange peeps out of the embassy window. Image: Ben Stansall/Getty

On Sunday October 16th, the Ecuadorian government cut off Julian Assange's internet connection from inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The country's foreign office said the severance came in response to Assange's continued interference in the US election campaign, as WikiLeaks continued to publish hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign advisor John Podesta.

Since then, a small but bubbling movement has grown online, attempting to get Assange his internet connection back. Last night, a post appeared on 4chan urging people to head to the embassy to set up mobile WiFi hotspots for Assange. The operation is known as #OpHotpocket, or Operation Hotpockets.

"We are now calling all BRITS to get their ass down to the embassy and stand around in mass, taking shifts with wifi-hotspots on hand!" reads the post. "Give Assange constant network and morale support all while streaming it live for the world to see." Are people actually going to try this?

Motherboard UK visited the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has claimed political asylum since August 2012, today to find out. (While no charges have ever been brought against Assange, he hasn't been able to leave the embassy for more than four years now; if he did, Britain would deport him to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault.)

Admittedly, on a late October afternoon, things were rather quiet on the street outside the embassy. Nevertheless, I found my guy. "Marco" was loitering outside the embassy, turning on and off his mobile hotspot. I approached him, and while tentative at first, Marco finally started explaining how he was hoping to aid Assange.

Marco, stood on the corner of the Ecuadorian and Colombian embassies. Image: Ben Sullivan

"I'm trying to help. I'm trying to help by activating the hotspot. We're hoping that [Assange] actually gets it," Marco told me. "I haven't seen so many people. I hope they're just around."

He was hopeful, but Marco said he hadn't really seen anyone else attempting to set up a hotspot for Assange. I brought up my WiFi menu on my phone, and saw Marco's iPhone on the connections list.

"Everybody knows by now [the US] are trying to take all of these words and communications out of the way because he can only provide the truth, and providing the truth is definitely a big problem for the United States," continued Marco. "Unfortunately they are the cancer of the world, not the Americans but definitely the government and the political system. And this is actually the moment where something can happen."

Read more: How Hackers Broke Into John Podesta and Colin Powell's Gmail Accounts

At this point, a group of American tourists walked past, debating whether Assange should free to walk or imprisoned for treason.

"The thing is, me personally, I have nothing to hide. The only reason why I doubted you when you came to speak is because many times [the media] say whatever they want to say," said Marco.

Marco and I walked further just down the street to look in a nearby cafe for more Assange hotspotters, but it was just full of the usual city suits. I moved across the street back to where three seasoned pro-Assange campaigners stood. They told me they are here three days a week to give support to WikiLeaks and Assange, and that they've seen a few people here and there coming to try and hotspot. I asked them about the internet situation.

Clara, Tom, and Ciaron. Image: Ben Sullivan

"We think it's unfortunate because Julian and WikiLeaks generally have made a great contribution to the US elections, and raised many issues beyond personalities that should be addressed. I think they've had a better election than they would have," said Ciaron O'Reilly (stood far right).

Clara (left), told me there there are a lot of rumors regarding Assange's internet dropout. "Someone yesterday came with a megaphone, obviously before us in the morning, and he was trying to do satire, but it wasn't good for Julian," she said.

Earlier this week, the UK's iNews reported that the embassy may be using a jammer to block Assange's internet, and quoted a passerby of the embassy saying there was a signal blackspot near the embassy. While I can't confirm the situation inside the building, I had no problems accessing data services stood outside. "It's not good for Julian," said Clara, "because they're constantly interfering." Still, the group of three held no ill feeling towards Ecuador. They told me Ecuador had no choice but to bow to pressure from the US, and that they're still very grateful of the support Ecuador has given to Assange.

It was time for me to leave by this point. I looked back across the road to Marco, who was now joined by a friend of his. I wish them all the luck, if they're still there, on this chilly Autumnal night. Marco may not be the hero Assange deserves, but he's the hero Assange needs right now.

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