Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stop strangling Wikileaks!

(Caution: This post is longer than usual, so please bear with me :))

Should Wikleaks be stopped from spreading leaked confidential U.S documents?

I wish to bring to notice other perspectives on the issue, before I go on to answer that.
  • A fellow blogger and a die-hard Hillary Clinton fan, has reiterated Sarah Palin's comparison of Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder) with Osama Bin Laden (Al-Qaeda terrorist), in her blogpost. To her mind, Wikileaks is a form of terrorism. "Both attack multiple nations, yet neither is a nation or (sic) truly affiliated with one," reads her blog, and hence, she says, it should be banned. 
  • British reporter Sam Leith attempts to break "the myth"of freedom of speech associated with Wikileaks, by equating the Wikileaks leaks to "rifling through your neighbor's bins and publishing his bank statements on the internet'.

First, the Clinton fan. Hillary is doing a great job as the U.S. Secretary of State. In a recent speech, she said she was a "big believer" in internet freedom and added "we have to be very careful that governments don't overreact to information [that they do not like being aired in public]. It is always better to err on the side of more expression, more information, and then try to counter it with other information." 

All this, when the U.S. State department looks for ways to prosecute Assange, has Amazon remove Wikileaks from its servers, gets Paypal and Mastercard to dump Wikileaks donations and asks its employees not to read Wikileaks. What hypocrisy! Or should I say, what diplomacy!

Also, as Luis Anderson points out in his blog, "Assange has no allegiance to the U.S, same as 96% of the world's population." So he cannot be accused of treason and the cables should continue to be leaked. 

Had Assange obtained the documents legally (that is to say, they were not leaked, but handed over by the government), there would have been no need to raise the above question. For the rule in journalism is - If it is in PUBLIC INTEREST, it makes a news story. (This is not to say, Wikileaks is journalism. That would have to be another post).

Which makes Leith's argument weak as our neighbors' bank statements are of no public interest, whatsoever. 

But, it is important to realize that in NO WAY could Julian have obtained this information legally, for every report would have been censored to market a "transparent" government that sportingly obliges to the right to information. So perhaps in this case, the end justifies the means. Otherwise, the public would have been deprived of this knowledge. 

Also, according to the German magazine (and partner leaker with Wikileaks), Der Spiegel, "Even documents that are classified at the highest level of "top secret" are still accessible to around 850,000 Americans. The leak of the diplomatic cables is an accident that was bound to happen sooner or later."

Moreover, as blogger Emmanuel writes, "When other countries (especially those unfriendly to America) [read: China and the Google saga] perform cyber-censure by claiming to apply law, it's a violation of free speech. When the U.S. attempts to do the same, it's an illegal act that must be brought to justice."

So to answer the question I posed - No, Wikileaks should not be stopped from making its revelations. 


  1. May I respond? The point I was trying to make was what may seem a narrowly philosophical one, but one I think is important.
    I'm not against Wikileaks (though I think the indiscriminate nature of the leaking is problematic) per se -- indeed much and maybe most of what's come out is in the public interest. Perhaps first on the list being allegations the US is spying on the UN.
    My point was that it's a red herring to think this is a "freedom of speech" issue. What it is is an issue about disclosure in the public interest. They are not the same thing.
    The analogy I made to rifling through bins was deliberate, and exact. What I wrote was:
    "WikiLeaks is not a freedom-of-speech issue, any more than rifling through your neighbour's bins and publishing his bank statements on the internet is. You might be able to make a case - if your neighbour is laundering drug money, say - for it being in the public interest to publish your neighbour's bank statements. But that case will be nothing to do with freedom of speech."
    ie, I was specifically saying that it *could* be in the public interest, in certain circumstances, to post your neighbour's bank statements. My point was that, as with Wikileaks, the argument that needed to be made in favour of disclosure was a public interest argument, not a free speech argument.
    Sam Leith

  2. Thank you Sam for giving this post your time!

    As I said before on your page, perhaps the two issues are being mixed.
    Though, I also think the issue of freedom of speech has been brought in because according to the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution that aims to protect the freedom of speech, "The people shall not be deprived or abridged to write or otherwise to publish any thing but false facts...." And only a few years after the ratification of the First Amendment, the Sedition Act was passed. This law provided punishment to anyone who spoke against the government, Congress, the president, or the United States Constitution "with intent to defame" them or to bring them "into contempt or disrepute" or to incite rebellion. That was an attempt to abridge the freedom of speech. So I can see your point, there's a thin line between the two. But I am not sure which side I tread on anymore. You are making a very fine distinction between the two.

    Perhaps what I am saying is, yes, disclosure in public interest is the issue, but are we free to make that disclosure?


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