As someone who strongly believes in government transparency and worked in the US and abroad on these issues for years, you would think I might be supportive of Julian Assange's efforts over at Wikileaks.  I have been reading comments of colleagues of mine who are defending Assange as well as the "hacktivists" who have conducted attacks on companies who have refused to provide services to wikileaks.  Former Common Cause webmaster and Dean Campaign online mastermind Nicco Mele was on CNN recently and he views the hacktivist's rout of Amazon, Paypal etc., as a modern version of an old fashioned sit in.  Something to think about, and I haven't made up my mind about that point yet  because I need to understand more about the mechanism which they used to conduct the attacks.   If they used computers across the Internet  without the users permission to "request service" in order to shut down the servers of these companies in my book that not alright.  While I am trying to understand that better, I have made up my mind about Wikileaks, at least in the case of publishing the State Department cables.


My first response to Wikileaks was that it was wrong and maybe even a crime. Then I began to think, well, people in government and elsewhere leak things all the time and major news outlets publish those leaks...only once in a while does legal trouble follow.  So probably not a crime, but definitely not:


1.  A responsible advocacy strategy   I believe some government information is best kept private in areas sensitive to diplomacy, security, and the privacy of average citizens.   Wikileaks is not an acceptable advocacy strategy to promote transparency in my view.  Like journalist, government officials, and professionals of all kinds, advocates have to make decisions about how to pursue our goals, what ends justify what means, and Wikileak's anarchistic approach goes too far for me.    In any company or organization it is essential for people to communicate honestly in order to form opinions about how to move a particular strategy forward.  I read the cables related to the countries where I  work (I had mixed emotions about it at first but since it is out there on hundreds of mirrored sites, I thought it important to understand it) and have to say I was impressed with what I found.  In the majority of cases I thought the State Department professionals had done an honest job of communicating what they thought.  And contrary to Assange's expectations, much of what I saw was in line with official US policy and stated goals.  So instead of unearthing some evil cabal on the part of the US, all Wikileaks succeeded in doing was revealing information that will make it harder for US diplomats to do their job- as diplomats and their counterparts are now less willing to share information for fear that private communications will become public and jeopardize their jobs, their negotiating positions, or possibly their safety.


2.  A reasonable form of public journalism:  I think the surge in blogs and other forms of public journalism and information gathering is valuable to the public discourse.  Open Secrets is awesome!  TPM is great!  Tim Karr's Media Citizen if essential reading on media issues.   It creates a meritocracy where people who have valuable perspectives and information  can help shape policy debates outside of the traditional media structure.  Bloggers and organizations have to make decisions about what they know and how they want to  share it.  I think throwing out thousands upon thousands of cables relating to dozens of countries on hundreds of issues without any context or goal beyond Assange's belief that this information should be public is irresponsible and potentially dangerous.  I also think it's kind of lazy.  The New York Times has been criticized for publishing  stories related to specific cables.  Like them,  I believe that now that the information is out there on the net no matter what, it's important to do the hard work of providing perspective on the cables and giving people the context.  Perhaps some good things may come from the release of the cables, maybe in some cases it will increase understanding.  But do I think that Assange and others at Wikileaks weighed all the possible negative outcomes created by the thousands of cables and made the moral judgement that yes, indeed, their belief in complete government transparency trumps all?  No way, I don't think they gave it any serious thought.  They put their righteous convictions ahead of any of these moral struggles that ought to have been very seriously considered.


I know many of my respected facebook and twitter friends are on the other side of the issue, but who among us would think its ok to have all of our correspondence with colleagues within our organizations made public over the Internet?  Should public organizations and companies like banks be subjected to the same scrutiny?  What about the communications of private citizens with government actors?  Should a handful of "hacktivists" be allowed to shut down any website they choose for whatever reason they might have?  What if one company was doing this to another for economic gain, or is only ok if you have a righteous reason? I have a very uneasy feeling about where all of this will lead and think legal professionals and the rest of us have our work cut out for us in catching up to the new challenges the Internet creates.



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