Sunday, November 28, 2010

The WikiLeaks Cables Are Out

Haven't delved into the so-called "Cablegate" too much yet. Checked out the Israel stuff, since that's likely to be the most immediately explosive, but most of them seemed to primarily focus on how Israel is convinced that Iran is its greatest potential threat. (Which isn't exactly news.)

To be fair, they aren't all out. In fact, supposedly a relatively small number are out. It seems like WikiLeaks is serious about scrubbing information that's dangerous, instead of merely embarrassing. I have no doubt that there is still going to be dangerous information released,
 mind you, since there are supposedly over 250,000 cables in total. But since none exceed Secret classification, and since WikiLeaks is being more careful. I think that the potential threat that they pose may be limited. I certainly hope so.

I'm of two minds about this. These things are supposed to be secret for a reason. As an advocate of pseudonymity and anonymity in debate and communication, I can't deny that in good conscience. Privacy in comunication is vital, and too many people forget that in their rush to build their public social presence online.

But these aren't individuals, these are governments. Yes, diplomats need to be able to conduct their business privately. Governments do too. But many (if not all) of the governments in question here cannot and will not acknowledge that they should respect privacy too. The American government wiretaps the hell out of its own citizens; the Europeans and Canadians are worse, and the rest of the world is even worse than THAT. Governments, as a rule, have not recognized that there is a single line of personal privacy that they can't cross for even the most ridiculous, prosaic rules. They're tearing apart personal privacy to protect COPYRIGHTS, for God's sake—ripping up any protection that citizens may have expected just to allow private holders of government-granted monopolies to sue the bejeezus out of some dumb college kid.

In that sort of environment, in that sort of world, how can I unconditionally condemn WikiLeaks? Sure, they don't respect governments' interests. But the one thing that comes across in all of their leaks is that governments don't respect our interests either. They can get away with that principally because of the secrecy that these sorts of institutions enjoy. We don't realize what they do to us. But they work for us, so we damned well should.

If the only way to change things is through this sort of extreme response, then it may be as necessary as it is disquieting.

Edit:  Good piece by Colin Koopman about how this presages widescale information transparency. I don't know if I fully agree, since WikiLeaks itself is a product of a dizzying level of secrecy and privacy-consciousness. Assange is only the front man: the organization itself is mostly anonymous, and as far as I can tell, takes pseudonymity and anonymity VERY seriously. I've read comments pointing out that they don't even know each other's names.


Still, I agree that we've been moving to a world where,  Colin said, "transparency trumps secrecy". We were already becoming more and more transparent to our governments. Now they're discovering that they could be just as transparent to us. They were NOT expecting that it goes both ways, and that's why they're collectively losing their shit over this.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the comments. But my sense is that this issue is beyond moralizing. It's not about what you want, or what I happen to think is right, but it is rather about what we need to adjust ourselves to.

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