Wikileaks Cable Dump: No More Secrets

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

While ambassadors and State Department officials tear their hair out and Hillary rants to the press about how Julian Assange is putting lives at risk with releases like the most recent dump of diplomatic cables, they’re failing to realize a fact about the world we live in. There’s a great post from The Economist about “missing the point of Wikileaks,” reflecting my thoughts very well.

If Mr Assange is murdered tomorrow, if WikiLeaks’ servers are cut off for a few hours, or a few days, or forever, nothing fundamental is really changed. With or without WikiLeaks, the technology exists to allow whistleblowers to leak data and documents while maintaining anonymity. With or without WikiLeaks, the personel, technical know-how, and ideological will exists to enable anonymous leaking and to make this information available to the public. Jailing Thomas Edison in 1890 would not have darkened the night.

Data isn’t on paper and microfilm anymore. There aren’t “Pentagon Papers,” there are emails, cables, text messages, phone logs, videos. Everything is digital. It’s on networks. And networks, even ones isolated from the internet, are very easy to snoop around. The secretive organizations of the world – private and public  – operate as if their secrets are safe on a computer. In reality, unless you have a perfectly unethical organization, in which everyone is willing to keep a damning secret under wraps and security is such that no one on the outside can see in (such an organization may be possible, but wouldn’t easily operate under the guise of legitimacy), there will be leaks.

The international anger at Julian Assange is both pointless and misdirected. Assange may have created the outlet for this information, but it was leaked, not hacked. People on the inside gave him this stuff, and they gave him a whole lot more, too. If Assange has a change of heart, gets arrested and imprisoned, or is killed, the leaks won’t just dry up. He is one man; he did not do this alone. There are people out there who wish to expose things that happen behind closed doors, and no one man can be credited with such exposures.

Assange isn’t a hero. He isn’t a spy or a terrorist or a journalist. He’s the personification of a reality that’s here to stay: secrecy is all but impossible in the digital world.

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