Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Dark Shadows that WikiLeaks casts

The folks at WikiLeaks profess to pursue altruistic goals. And in their hearts, they might. However not every secret exists to perpetuate some evil power. Secrets are necessary for the proper functioning of good governments, corporations and individuals. Secure communication is necessary between groups and individuals if they are to build the trust necessary to overcome obstacles and resolve complex issues using honest data. When secrets are betrayed, trust, good data and potential resolutions are lost. 

A recent op-ed column in the Globe and Mail  written by former Canadian diplomat and current aid worker Scott Gilmore, illustrates some of the blow-back the world can expect following the November 28 leaks. For those that champion peace and human rights in the troubled parts of the world, Gilmore makes a strong case why the actions of WikiLeaks should raise concerns.

While the mass media has been doing its best Perez Hilton to publicize the most stinging diplomat disses  (my favorite: "Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is rarely scene without his voluptuous blonde Ukrainian nurse"), Gilmore in contrast explores the dark shadows the leaks cast:
It’s not just the militant activist in Guelph, Ont., reading the cables. It’s the military dictatorships and the secret police in capitals all around the world. In the days and weeks ahead, people who dared to share information with U.S. diplomats will be rounded up. And thousands more who may have been willing to pass on pictures of tortured bodies will keep them in the desk drawer instead.
The world of whistle-blowing has changed dramatically since the days of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg had to photocopy each document page and clandestinely arrange drop-offs with his contact at the New York Times, an activity which took the better part of a year (Check out the fantastic documentary "The Most Dangerous Man in America"). He knew precisely what he was disclosing and fully understood the consequences of his actions as they would apply to himself and his country.

Today's anonymous leaker can uploads hundreds of thousands of classified documents they know or care little about with a few keystrokes and a USB drive. They can be distributed by organizations like WikiLeaks in the name of transparency and other purported noble causes for everyone to see with little regard to the short or long term effects of the disclosures.

Technology enables this mass indiscriminate disclosure of secrets by a few self-appointed jurors. While one might argue that some good may come from these actions, it is hard to justify given the immediate and future collateral damage. Technology allows us to obliterate a city to remove a villain, but only a madman would consider such a plan.


  1. This is an interesting opinion. However, I think the really interesting point is not wikileaks the site, but the increasing difficulty (and perhaps impossibility) of securing information like this in the future. With the internet, there will be many, many future wikileaks like sites and we will have to assume a much higher likelyhood of information that we think of as "secure" being released to the public at large - whether we like it or not.

  2. I think there is a bigger elephant in the room. The point is that these leaks are now inevitable and everyone is going to have to get used to them. The ability to "secure" information is disappearing and even the ham handed attempts at shutting down this site via political pressure on and other internet sites are short sighted. Has Lieberman never heard of bittorent?

    Here's another perspective.