DOJ charges Julian Assange with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for allegedly assisting Chelsea Manning in an attempt to crack a DOD password (Joseph Cox/Motherboard)

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On Thursday, the US unsealed charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. But despite a pervasive narrative that authorities were going to prosecute Assange for publishing information in the public interest, raising press freedom concerns, instead a court charged Assange with hacking crimes that had already been in media reports for years, first reported by The Washington Post in 2011.

The new charges will change the public conversation about Assange and Wikileaks. While Assange and his supporters have said that they were merely releasing information obtained by others, the charges allege that he was actively conspiring to break into systems to obtain the information in the first place, through illegal means. Public perception-wise, this distinction is important, and changes the discussion from one about the ethics of publishing classified information to one about the ethics of hacktivism and using hacking to obtain information that the people who release it believe it to be in the public interest.

Assange is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, according to an announcement from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The charges relate to how Assange allegedly conspired with Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks’ source for the infamous Iraq War Logs and other disclosures, to crack a