Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Wikileaks and government's right to privacy


The Wikileaks' now-famous US diplomatic cable dump has stirred a whole new round of debate on what’s private and what’s public in a democracy.

The big question, as the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson and George Packer have raised, is do governments have a right/priviledge to privacy? If democratically elected governments are essentially an extension of their citizens, then don’t the citizens have a right to know all their private thoughts, discussions and correspondence?

I tend to disagree. Yes, governments are made for us and by us but they are entities in themselves too with a certain identity of their own. Otherwise, we would never be able to hold them to account as all their actions would essentially be the actions of each and every citizen of the country. If we were to say that they had no separate identity of their own, then in essence, they could never be brought to books.

As an individual, I have a right to private conversations and correspondence before I act publicly. And a lot of these private discussions, opinions and conversations may be contradictary, difficult, unsavoury and questionable according to the prevailing moral standards of the time - but it is only through these contradictions that I am able to arrive at a position that I am ready to assume publicly on issues. Governments, too, have that right.

However, on certain occasions, my privacy will be breached because doing so will be in the benefit of the community that I live in. But, as I live in a democracy, I hope that there will be a strong enough reason to do so, and as far as possible, it will be done through the right channels. Any democratically-elected government, too, deserves some degree of the same respect.

In this particular instance, Wikileaks - and the five newspapers involved - have played fast & loose with both these parameters. However, as Wikileaks has made its name out of this kind of conduct, let us focus our energies on it. There are three things that strike me about the what, why and how of Wikileaks' actions.

To begin with, Wikileaks has never attempted to use the right channels – the laws provided within the democratic set-up – to gain information about any government. Yes, it is difficult, painful and long-drawn to use these channels but they exist. However, Wikileaks has never been interested in using them. Instead, it has consistently used underhand, Robinhood-style ways to gain private information. To put it in plain ol' English, they have indulged in theft of the cables.

This in itself could be exonerated, if indeed we learnt something that could be used to take some conclusive steps forward. I am with George Packer when he says that this is not the case with Wikileaks' latest cable dump.

Richard Adams of the Guardian has listed seven of the most important revelations made by the cable dump till now.  Let’s tackle them one by one.

Silvio Berlusconi 'profited from secret deals' with Vladimir Putin
What the cables tell us is that the US government suspected he might have profited so and was investigating him. His guilt itself remained inconclusive. And by revealing the investigations to the world before any conclusive evidence could be gathered, Wikileaks has done Berlusconi a favour. It is going to be tougher to pin him down since the investigations may never be finished now, and he is extremely good at riding out rumours about his corruption anyway.

The US pressured Spain over CIA renditions and Guantanamo Bay
What I understood from the cables is that the US diplomats had several conversations with the main public prosecutor of an important human rights case being fought in Spain. Yes, but the US government was not doing anything illegal – there were no kickbacks, frauds or bribery involved. So other than knowing that the US government tries to influence officials around the world - something that was not news in itself - we have not learnt anything particularly usable.

The scale of Afghan corruption is overwhelming

This might be news to Wikileaks and Adams, but the rest of us didn’t need a whole government machinery to be violated in order to learn that. There were enough media reports in the public domain suggesting the same.

Hillary Clinton queried Cristina Kirchner's mental health

So? Embarrassing, yes. Illegal, no. And honestly, after all the megalomaniacs we have seen become world leaders, I’d say it is better to keep tabs on the mental health status of all politicians.

The Bank of England governor played backroom politics

So he is not politically neutral and must go. But why punish the US government for it by compromising it? And is it a matter of earth-shattering importance justifying stealing and leaking of private documents?

The British government remains in thrall to the US
To be in thrall is one thing, but did the British government do anything illegal for the US government? Nothing in the cables suggest that.

US diplomats spied on the UN's leadership
This is the only potentially damaging revelation because it could amount to a breach of international human rights. But again, “could” is the operative word out here. We don’t know for sure yet. Besides, if the same investigation had revealed that some of them had "profited from secret deals" with Vladimir Putin - how would we then view the investigation?

None of the revelations show the US government actually doing anything technically illegal on which it could be brought to books. We have always known that government’s play games, use undue influence, meddle and indulge in espionage, and now we have evidence of it. But if the US government's actions are morally ambiguous but not illegal, where does that leave us in macro-terms?

Which brings me to the last point: the manner in which these cables have been dumped on to the world. Wikileaks didn't feel the need to sift through the documents itself and question what was indeed worth revealing instead of unleashing them all over the internet. If that destabalising international relations and/or the effectiveness of an entire government department - who cares? Certainly not Assange & Co.

Some would argue that it was an impossible task to sift through tens of thousands of cables. But if the government is an entity with some rights, and only the circumstances decided whether or not those rights can be violated - how did Wikipedia even know what the circumstances of the case were, if it hadn't actually gone through all the cables itself?

If any decent person was to find a gossip-ridden letter of mine doing the rounds, unless it contained a confession to murder by me, I would expect the person to return it back to me – not plaster it all over the Internet. Why should the US government expect any less?




***
Here's a profile of Julian Assange from his pre-cable dump days: No Secrets by Raffi Khatchadourian published on June 7, 2010.

In particular, I liked this quote: "Soon enough, Assange must confront the paradox of his creation: the thing that he seems to detest most—power without accountability—is encoded in the site’s DNA, and will only become more pronounced as WikiLeaks evolves into a real institution."

24 comments:

lokulin said...

Where do I start!?

The US government should expect less because it is not a person and the social contract that exists between two people and a person and a government or other non-human entity does not have to be equal. In fact, you can see that even in society the social contracts that exist between different circles of people afford different behaviours. We treat the government differently to a real person because as an entity it can not by itself, eat, shit, breath, grow or die. It isn't a human, and any analogy treating it as a human is inherently flawed.

But even if the government was to be treated even closely to the way we would treat another human being if the leaks are all as mundane as you describe, and I would tend to agree then why where they marked as confidential and private. That is one of the core issues here, the content is almost irrelevant and the fact that most pieces are focusing on the content rather than the process is damning. Unlike when an individual makes a decision (through private thoughts), a government has a duty to disclose fully how it came to perform an action so the public can make an informed decision on whether that government should continue to have the right to govern. This is part of the social contract we have with our government.

The fact that so often actions are taken without the following full disclosure is what is disappointing about the way a lot of government work is done.

Why I find disappointing is that it seems a lot of people are happy to sit around and sagely say, "but governments always act in this way, doing embarrassing or slightly evil things, we knew all this already, we just didn't need to see it in black and white", all the while nodding their heads in agreement at the ongoing poor state of things. But when do we demand something better? Something more open and accountable? Similarly it is not good enough to sit back and say "well, the system we have is better than a lot of others, we are more open than the rest". Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of progressive thought.

In response to your first assumption however, I tend to disagree that our right to know removes the responsibility of those in power to wield it in a responsible manner. Even with full disclosure you have the issue that the amount of information is too much for any one person to fully synthesise let alone act upon it. Further to this there is the matter of proximity in time and space for an individual to intervene in the process. I simply can't see how you can reach the conclusion that disclosure removes the responsibility from government unless we had the technology to directly control each government official through some kind of hyper-futuristic neural link up. Your argument is absurd!

Balancing the however is the issue that it is not appropriate for a whole nation to pull the "it isn't our fault our government did what it did because we didn't know they were doing it" defence. Allowing governments to keep secrets gives the public an convenient excuse to feel ok about the government doing bad things in their name. For us to shy away from the responsibility to shoulder more of the blame for government actions is shrill and tantamount to wanting to have the cake and eat it too.

The problem I see with your assertion that things should be done through the right channels is that I'm not sure that the channels were wrong. Which channels should have been used? Freedom of information acts? Hardly likely to glean results as any private information would be redacted. The whole point of this is to point out that a lot of the stuff that is being considered private is mundane!

I'll stop there as I think this is the longest comment I've ever written. You touch on a lot of topics in this post and I think it is great that more people are writing about it but I think you've missed a lot of interesting deeper issues and over simplified things with some analogies that are fatally flawed.

globalbabble said...

Hi Lokulin,

My entry must have really riled you because that must be the longest comment I must have ever received :-)

I agree that we cannot equate individuals to governments. And for sure, individuals have more rights than governments. But government, too, is an entity with a certain identity of its own - it takes certain decisions, acts on it and takes responsibility for it. Sometimes against the wishes of certain minorities or even majorities... but that is a mandate we have given to governments.

Maybe public limited companies would be a better analogy - yes, they have to declare a certain amount of information, but not all. It couldn't operate effectively if had to.

I don't have a problem with your argument principally, that governments should inform their citizens of all their decision processes - as they happen. But how would we operationalise that. How would you make sure that you inform your public but not let it leak to competitive parties - say for example, another country working on a opposite policy initiative? Other countries than different agenda for your own. (And I am not invoking paranoid visions of terrorist organisations - there are many issues (economic and political) which require tricky balancing acts).

Also, not all the cables were marked secret and confidential. Lots and lots of them were not - they were just marked as regular communication within the network. Extremely few of the cables leaked were actually marked highly confidential because those cables were not as easily accesible and thus stolen.

By leaking these cables Wikileaks has ensured that henceforth, all sorts of mundance mails fall within the category of highly confidential.

I think, if you want to governments to be more open you have to fight for that - generate a debate on how, what where and how and how much information should be made public. It will be slow and longdrawn and painful fight - but if you look back in history, it is only the slow, longdrawn and painful fights that have lead to systemic changes. Think civil rights movements or Indian independence movement. Robinhood-style interjections only lead to stalemate, think Palestine.

danielsimpson said...

Like the previous commenter said, where to start? ;)

Of course not all secrets can be public - it's practically a truism.

But George Packer rather nails his colours to the mast here: "Assange’s stated ambition is to embarrass the U.S. This means that his goals and those of most journalists are not the same."

Shame about "most journalists" then - I think they should be the "feral beasts" Tony Blair claimed they were. Viz: http://danielsimpson.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/a-proper-job/

Meanwhile, Packer's missed the point in any case:

"Assange is an anarchist whose stated goal is to provoke an over-reaction on the part of the state that will expose its authoritarian nature, turn it inward in a spasm of paranoia and ultimately prevent it from functioning."

http://www.alternet.org/story/149068/is_the_crackdown_on_wikileaks_and_threats_of_julian_assanges_arrest_exactly_what_he_was_planning

Good luck with that Julian! ;)

globalbabble said...

But it is not about what George Packer wants or does not want.. It is about whether Wikileaks behaved in a responsible fashion in case of the cable dump vis-a-vis the US government.

What do you think - did the occassion merit Wikileaks' actions? If not all secrets can be made public - then what secrets can, and did the cables and the manner in which they were made public fulfill the criteria..

Yes, journalists should be feral beasts :-) But they must remember that their actions also have consequences for others, not just themselves... Is that something they must consider before indulging in feralness?

danielsimpson said...

As the article I linked makes clear, behaving "in a responsible fashion" isn't Assange's aim. The New Yorker's own profile of him reveals as much.

As for feral beastliness, he says in that profile that he might well get blood on his hands.

My own view is that we have to weigh our priorities carefully. The world is all shades of grey. But it's not a reporter's job to help the government con people.

Sadly most disagree.

globalbabble said...

But why should we support Wikileaks in its avowed aim? What's in it for us - and does Julian Assange care?

lokulin said...

Riled up? Not really, but maybe I make the extra effort because the point of view you describe doesn't sit with what I'd expect from you. ;-) Then again maybe you are just playing devils advocate.

What is in it for us? A more open and accountable government. A more equitable distribution of power in the world.

You make an interesting point regarding keeping strategies secret from competitors but I'm just not sure that keeping these strategies secret is the correct strategy in most situations. In any case, surely sooner or later we are going to have to evolve our intercourse to a more mature level where sharing, openness and cooperation is the norm. The question then becomes how do you achieve that? Is it good enough to use the "usual channels" or is the system in need of a serious hack to allow the process to be bootstrapped. Sometimes the system is incapable of fixing itself and needs an outside force to get it in to action.

To take you up on your final point a few posts above, if you think about the civil rights process or Indian independence movement I am sure you can find cases where people exercised passive civil disobedience that still broke laws. At one time segregation was law. People broke that law in civil disobedience. Drawing parallels with the situation in Palestine where you have two parties that are openly physically hostile to the point of using lethal force is drawing an awfully long bow. Maybe you see it differently but to me, what Wikileaks has done sits far closer to refusing to stand on a bus than to strapping a bomb to its chest.

This civil disobedience could be the action that is needed to provide some much needed external energy in to the process to make our system better.

As I said before, the beauty of this whole event is that it touches on some really great areas worth discussing. No doubt in a few weeks however it'll all have blown over and we'll be back to watching kittens being saved from trees.

danielsimpson said...

Why ask those questions of Assange in the first place? Shouldn't we ask them of journalists and governments (and other exploitative concentrations of power)?

Wikileaks is doing what it does, regardless of whether we support it.

What are we doing?

globalbabble said...

Hi Daniel / Lokulin,

Ok, which one of you cliked on "funny" for the reactions. I am most insulted :-)

@Daniel: Ok, I can't say I am an investigative journalist. So I shouldn't have an opinion on the subject? I agree with the fact that journalists should be doing more, but as civil citizen I am entitled to question whether Wikileaks is necessarily the way to go.

@Lokulin: I am not exactly sure why in this instance I feel Wikileaks crossed some limits. I was with them with their earlier exposes, but the manner and content of what they leaked just didn't make sense to me.

There is one big difference between any civil disobedience movements and what Wikileaks is doing. The protestors always made it very clear what they wanted and expected of the government - they laid out their demands and told the government how, where and what they would do, if their demands would not be met. In this particular instance, did Wikileaks demand of the US government to make their diplomatic cables available for scrutiny with a transparent debate on why? It did not.

Also, a bit characteristic of successful civil disobedience movements was that they were ready to face the consequences of their actions - being arrested, tried in court, sentenced. In fact, that was a part of their protest. In case of Assange, we don't even know where he is, when and from where he will attack - and he goes into hiding after he had done what he set out to do. In fact, secrecy is the basis of the whole organisation.

It is more guerilla warfare than civil disobedience.

Arun said...

I read Assange's essay about governments and conspiracies, and how leaks will force them to be less conspiratorial, and how to do this efficiently. The man has brains, and its a positively ethical one. He's not a mere voyeur, or a sadist. And yes, we need this conspiracy to be broken. (To the 'Why' question? Where do we start? From: A few hundred thousand people in Iraq died for no reason? That Obama is no different, and plans to continue with all the same stuff?)

You might want to read his essay, its short and well written. But this link - http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/12/what-is-julian-assange-up-to.html - gives a good picture too (I am still reading it, so cant be fully sure, but sounds great till midway).


Arun

globalbabble said...

Hi Arun,

Will read the essay. Thanks for the link. As I haven't, I am not in a position to respond.

However, I read The New Yorker profile on him, which I would advise you to read in return. It is actually very positive about him, but also points out some contradictions of his position.

Arun said...

I read the New Yorker profile. Aside from the facts, had the effect of watching a thriller with elements of drama. We can expect that film in a year or so, I guess.

Now, to come back to your write-up:

“To begin with, Wikileaks has never attempted to use the right channels – the laws provided within the democratic set-up – to gain information about any government.”

This is naïve. The official law protects all the important documents – that is, anything secretive, conspiratorial – in the name of “national security”, and will come to public domain only after several years, or decades – and the most damaging ones will probably be destroyed. A simple example is the Collateral Murder video request from Reuters (rejected by Army) mentioned in the New Yorker profile you just provided. If WikiLeaks didn’t do what it did, the video would have not seen the light for several more years.

We have a situation where action is required RIGHT NOW. As soon as possible. I can list out the reasons, if you are interested 

“And by revealing the investigations to the world before any conclusive evidence could be gathered, Wikileaks has done Berlusconi a favour. It is going to be tougher to pin him down since the investigations may never be finished now, and he is extremely good at riding out rumours about his corruption anyway.”

What do you think would have come out of a US investigation into Berlusconi? The US has supported and continues to support several corrupt systems. It has supported Berlusconi knowing that he’s a mafia don. I believe nothing would have happened, US is not naïve to do a justice battle with Berlusconi over this. Except may be some blackmail – may be the US will ask Berlusconi to do it some favour in return. I believe that if WikiLeaks didn’t leak this, the world would have probably never known this!

“What I understood from the cables is that the US diplomats had several conversations with the main public prosecutor of an important human rights case being fought in Spain. Yes, but the US government was not doing anything illegal – there were no kickbacks, frauds or bribery involved”

USA wants to secretly rig an investigation into human rights violation by them. US is a country that goes to war, killing several hundred thousands, and spending trillions, “to create human rights”, and “a free justice system”. Why should they rig a human rights case, if they are for human rights? Evidence that US is not interested in Universal human rights, but merely its own (i.e the Industrial-Military complex’s) interests.

“Hillary Clinton queried Cristina Kirchner's mental health
So? Embarrassing, yes. Illegal, no. And honestly, after all the megalomaniacs we have seen become world leaders, I’d say it is better to keep tabs on the mental health status of all politicians.”

Why should the US be worried about the mental health of a far flung country in Latin America? I can understand if the UN is interested. But why the US? Because it’s the world’s police? Who’s Clinton to keep tabs on the mental health status of some other countries’ leader, especially when Bush is walking around free? Mr. and Mrs. Kirchner’s policies have been left-wing, and may be anti-American (i.e against the US government policies, like the wave that is sweeping Latin America). US has a history of supporting dictators in Argentina, against democratic governments. Clearly Clinton’s interest was not the well being of a lady.

Arun said...

I read the New Yorker profile. Aside from the facts, had the effect of watching a thriller with elements of drama. We can expect that film in a year or so, I guess.

Now, to come back to your write-up:

“To begin with, Wikileaks has never attempted to use the right channels – the laws provided within the democratic set-up – to gain information about any government.”

This is naïve. The official law protects all the important documents – that is, anything secretive, conspiratorial – in the name of “national security”, and will come to public domain only after several years, or decades – and the most damaging ones will probably be destroyed. A simple example is the Collateral Murder video request from Reuters (rejected by Army) mentioned in the New Yorker profile you just provided. If WikiLeaks didn’t do what it did, the video would have not seen the light for several more years.

We have a situation where action is required RIGHT NOW. As soon as possible. I can list out the reasons, if you are interested 

“And by revealing the investigations to the world before any conclusive evidence could be gathered, Wikileaks has done Berlusconi a favour. It is going to be tougher to pin him down since the investigations may never be finished now, and he is extremely good at riding out rumours about his corruption anyway.”

What do you think would have come out of a US investigation into Berlusconi? The US has supported and continues to support several corrupt systems. It has supported Berlusconi knowing that he’s a mafia don. I believe nothing would have happened, US is not naïve to do a justice battle with Berlusconi over this. Except may be some blackmail – may be the US will ask Berlusconi to do it some favour in return. I believe that if WikiLeaks didn’t leak this, the world would have probably never known this!

“What I understood from the cables is that the US diplomats had several conversations with the main public prosecutor of an important human rights case being fought in Spain. Yes, but the US government was not doing anything illegal – there were no kickbacks, frauds or bribery involved”

USA wants to secretly rig an investigation into human rights violation by them. US is a country that goes to war, killing several hundred thousands, and spending trillions, “to create human rights”, and “a free justice system”. Why should they rig a human rights case, if they are for human rights? Evidence that US is not interested in Universal human rights, but merely its own (i.e the Industrial-Military complex’s) interests.

“Hillary Clinton queried Cristina Kirchner's mental health
So? Embarrassing, yes. Illegal, no. And honestly, after all the megalomaniacs we have seen become world leaders, I’d say it is better to keep tabs on the mental health status of all politicians.”

Why should the US be worried about the mental health of a far flung country in Latin America? I can understand if the UN is interested. But why the US? Because it’s the world’s police? Who’s Clinton to keep tabs on the mental health status of some other countries’ leader, especially when Bush is walking around free? Mr. and Mrs. Kirchner’s policies have been left-wing, and may be anti-American (i.e against the US government policies, like the wave that is sweeping Latin America). US has a history of supporting dictators in Argentina, against democratic governments. Clearly Clinton’s interest was not the well being of a lady.

Arun said...

Part 2: “What I understood from the cables is that the US diplomats had several conversations with the main public prosecutor of an important human rights case being fought in Spain. Yes, but the US government was not doing anything illegal – there were no kickbacks, frauds or bribery involved”

USA wants to secretly rig an investigation into human rights violation by them. US is a country that goes to war, killing several hundred thousands, and spending trillions, “to create human rights”, and “a free justice system”. Why should they rig a human rights case, if they are for human rights? Evidence that US is not interested in Universal human rights, but merely its own (i.e the Industrial-Military complex’s) interests.

“Hillary Clinton queried Cristina Kirchner's mental health
So? Embarrassing, yes. Illegal, no. And honestly, after all the megalomaniacs we have seen become world leaders, I’d say it is better to keep tabs on the mental health status of all politicians.”

Why should the US be worried about the mental health of a far flung country in Latin America? I can understand if the UN is interested. But why the US? Because it’s the world’s police? Who’s Clinton to keep tabs on the mental health status of some other countries’ leader, especially when Bush is walking around free? Mr. and Mrs. Kirchner’s policies have been left-wing, and may be anti-American (i.e against the US government policies, like the wave that is sweeping Latin America). US has a history of supporting dictators in Argentina, against democratic governments. Clearly Clinton’s interest was not the well being of a lady.

“The Bank of England governor played backroom politics
So he is not politically neutral and must go. But why punish the US government for it by compromising it? And is it a matter of earth-shattering importance justifying stealing and leaking of private documents?”

Why do you think the above fact is anti-US government only? Consider it as something that’s against something wrong that happened in UK. Who’s saying otherwise?

About the importance? The importance is that bureaucrats represent the democratically elected government; their job is not to badmouth them to another country.

“The British government remains in thrall to the US
To be in thrall is one thing, but did the British government do anything illegal for the US government?”

What is illegal? George Bush killed a few hundred thousand (I am repeating it again, hope you get the importance), spent a trillion, for no reason. And a few thousand US soldiers. For NO REASON. He’s not illegal yet.

The UK participated in the same war. For no reason.

Murder of a hundred thousand sounds like a legal crime to me.

Arun said...

Part 2:
“What I understood from the cables is that the US diplomats had several conversations with the main public prosecutor of an important human rights case being fought in Spain. Yes, but the US government was not doing anything illegal – there were no kickbacks, frauds or bribery involved”

USA wants to secretly rig an investigation into human rights violation by them. US is a country that goes to war, killing several hundred thousands, and spending trillions, “to create human rights”, and “a free justice system”. Why should they rig a human rights case, if they are for human rights? Evidence that US is not interested in Universal human rights, but merely its own (i.e the Industrial-Military complex’s) interests.

“Hillary Clinton queried Cristina Kirchner's mental health
So? Embarrassing, yes. Illegal, no. And honestly, after all the megalomaniacs we have seen become world leaders, I’d say it is better to keep tabs on the mental health status of all politicians.”

Why should the US be worried about the mental health of a far flung country in Latin America? I can understand if the UN is interested. But why the US? Because it’s the world’s police? Who’s Clinton to keep tabs on the mental health status of some other countries’ leader, especially when Bush is walking around free? Mr. and Mrs. Kirchner’s policies have been left-wing, and may be anti-American (i.e against the US government policies, like the wave that is sweeping Latin America). US has a history of supporting dictators in Argentina, against democratic governments. Clearly Clinton’s interest was not the well being of a lady.

Arun said...

Part 3 :)

“The Bank of England governor played backroom politics
So he is not politically neutral and must go. But why punish the US government for it by compromising it? And is it a matter of earth-shattering importance justifying stealing and leaking of private documents?”

Why do you think the above fact is anti-US government only? Consider it as something that’s against something wrong that happened in UK. Who’s saying otherwise?

About the importance? The importance is that bureaucrats represent the democratically elected government; their job is not to badmouth them to another country.

“The British government remains in thrall to the US
To be in thrall is one thing, but did the British government do anything illegal for the US government?”

What is illegal? George Bush killed a few hundred thousand (I am repeating it again, hope you get the importance), spent a trillion, for no reason. And a few thousand US soldiers. For NO REASON. He’s not illegal yet.

The UK participated in the same war. For no reason.

Murder of a hundred thousand sounds like a legal crime to me.

danielsimpson said...

Hi Chetna, I think that as citizens we all have responsibilities, which doesn't mean we all do the same thing, or agree about what to do.

You're of course free to disagree with Assange, but I think (like the New Yorker) you're doing so from a position that grants too much licence to those who abuse their power, often with the finest benevolent rhetoric.

danielsimpson said...

Thanks for that link Arun - some interesting points there.

Chetna says:

It is more guerilla warfare than civil disobedience.

Assange notes:

Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free.

Hardly warfare. As some in the comments on that link stress, all this focus on motivation and ethics seems to miss the point.

To revive the military metaphors, it's a live-ammo asymmetric information insurgency. It may well backfire, as he seems to acknowledge. But it's interesting to watch, and I agree far less with those who'd shut it down (as if they could really silo themselves into security).

Arun said...

Damn, my comments are appearing as such a mess! I am sorry! :)

globalbabble said...

Hi Daniel & Arun,

Thanks for the link. I did read it and understand Julian Assange's motivations a bit more.

The problem is - if secrets and conspiracies is what bothers Assange so much, can't he see that his own organisation's essential existence depends on it? Why do we know so little about Assange's and Wikileaks' movements and actions?

I would totally agree with him - if he constantly put up a transcript of all the discussions and plans Wikileaks made. But he doesn't - because he doesn't actually have a problem with secrecy. He values it when it is to his benefit. He only has a problem with it when some one else is being secretive.

No, the US government is not a saintly institution. But I did not need these leaks to convince me that Bush's government had killed a hundreds of thousands of people around the world. And if I had enough facts without access to US government correspondence so did every one else. But when Americans/British had the chance to change the Bush/Blair government - what did they do? They re-elected them knowing full well what was going on. What makes you think the release of these documents will change anything?

In a recent Times article, Assange said: "If their behavior is revealed to the public, [governments] have one of two choices: one is to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavors, and proud to display them to the public. Or the other is to lock down internally and to balkanize, and as a result, of course, cease to be as efficient as they were. To me, that is a very good outcome, because organizations can either be efficient, open and honest, or they can be closed, conspiratorial and inefficient."

Only time will tell what happens.

The only good outcome of this event till now has been - as Lokulin said - that at least we are debating over why and how much should government's reveal to their public. But then again - perhaps - that was what was Assange's motives all along!

If China decides to support North Korea now - it is just collateral damage.

PS: I wrote a silly blog on Assange. I rather find him fascinating: http://gebachenthoughts.blogspot.com/

globalbabble said...

Hi Arun,

We get the gist of it. I think the problem is that my comment section says that the comments are too long, right?

It happened to me too.. but actually they all get published in full lenght. Sorry about that.

Yet Another Anonymous said...

There is another thing to consider since none of this leaked information has been particularly damaging to anyone.

What if some agency of the US government, like the CIA, leaked this info to Assange, using him to further some agenda against transparency in government? Or would that be too far fetched to consider?

There is a group of vocal politicians in the US from both sides of the aisle who want to see an end to net neutrality and who want to see web censorship. By presenting the web as a threat to national and global security these politicians gain support for their aims.

We are now living in a country where Homeland Security asserts the right to put its hands in your pants, where warrantless searches have become the norm, and where video screens are being put into Wal-Mart and Target stores advising the shoppers to keep an eye on each other. We have "free speech zones" and "constitution free zones" (within 100 miles of any border). We have a government that works in collusion with a private central banking system that has given away trillions of dollars and when Congress asks where this money went they are told "we aren't going to tell you".

Dirty tricks are part and parcel of intelligence agencies and many of these agencies around the world work in concert with one another. They don't work so much to protect the security of the people as they do to protect the security of favored corporations.

If it takes anonymous hacktivists to combat the growing global corporatism (fascism by its former name), then I am all for them. The only shortcoming I find with them is the lack of any real meaty disclosures.

Yet Another Anonymous said...

Cass Sunstein, head of Obama's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, known to others and the Homeland Propaganda Office says the government should in this way against those it deems as believing in "false" conspiracy theories:

"Second, we suggest a
distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their
allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups,
thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity."

Sunstein believes it is perfectly ok for the government to act anonymously, as de-classified documents going back several decades will attest; so one entity to another, what's wrong with a little goosing and gandering?

globalbabble said...

Hi,

Hmmm.. I never thought of the government using the cables to counter net nuetrality. There is food for thought there - though the cable fiasco seems to have done them more harm than good. I am sure they want to censor the internet but would they want to do it at the cost of looking silly and powerless? I think Obama was already looking quite powerless with the mid-terms - this might have cost him his re-election. I hope a Republican Government back in the US - perhaps with Sarah Palin heading it - is what Assange wanted.

About goosing and gandering: sure, but the point is we have mandated our governments to act on our behalf, rightly or wrongly, and every five years we reaffirm that mandate. It may be a limited power - but it is more than what we have over Wikileaks. Maybe it is ok for us to live with that because in this case we agree with what they are doing - but it is worth remembering.