I’ve found myself quite conflicted over the latest Wikileaks “dump”, specifically the hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables.
On the one hand, there is no doubt that the mainstream press is failing miserably in its role of investigating and breaking stories about illegal secret activities. We’ve seen numerous high-profile publications delay stories for fear of impacting elections (e.g. the NY Times and Bush-era warrantless wiretapping). Where the War in Iraq is concerned, it seems fairly clear that the US government misled its people, and that, in my opinion, deserves complete whistleblower protection.
On the other hand, while Wikileaks claims to have information proving banking corruption during the financial crisis, BP corruption during the oil spill, and many others, they chose to release secret diplomatic cables first. The argument that the people have the right to know everything the government does in real time does not hold water: many lives have been saved by secret operations and negotiations. Secrecy has a role to play in a peaceful society. Of course, all information should eventually be made public, so the Freedom of Information Act is critical, and multi-partisan oversight of secret operations and negotiations is necessary while those are ongoing. So what is the justification for this particular leak? Does it reveal significant lies by the US government where the public is being deeply misled? I don’t quite see it, although it’s possible that I’m not looking closely enough.
All that said, in this fog of uncertainty, some (many) are arguing that Wikileaks is a terrorist organization and that Julian Assange should be arrested. Senators are pressuring tech companies to censor the information, and tech companies are buckling at record speed (ahem, Amazon, Paypal,…) This line of argument is deeply disturbing, and the speed with which the system is cracking down on Wikileaks through political pressure is surprisingly scary. Where is due process? Whatever happened to freedom of the press? Recently, some members of the State Department have implied that students vying for jobs with them should refrain from publicly discussing Wikileaks. Ummm, which country is this again? Home of the Brave, Land of the Free, right?
One note to the Wikileaks folks: why not focus on the areas that are clear no-brainers first? Tell us about the BP corruption. Tell us about how the banks abused the bailout funds. This is true, unadulterated whistle blowing. In the end, there may well be a case that releasing these diplomatic cables is proper whistleblowing. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as clear-cut, and that is going to hurt the Wikileaks mission significantly in the long run.
All that said, Mr. Assange, you have balls of steel. I can’t quite believe that you are real, but I’m glad people like you exist to fight bravely for freedom of information, even if, in some cases, I’m not sure I agree with your judgment calls.