Monday, November 22, 2010

module xii: wikileaks

As I searched through the WikiLeaks site, I was both amazed and overwhelmed by the information made available. It is organized, searchable and cross-referenced. I was expected a big blob of text 100 million pages long. I did have a hard time making any real sense of it, but I found it interesting nonetheless. I plan to go back and delve further. The maps helped make a connection to the text I was reading. It’s amazing to be able to see exactly where each report is taking place. Somehow, the maps made it all the more real for me.

In truth, I am very torn about On one hand I do applaud Assange’s work in making available this information. The current conflict in the Middle East has divided this country, especially politically. Furthermore, many have questioned former president Bush’s motivations, tactics and leadership from day one. Some consider him a war criminal. I have no doubt that many government activities would shock American citizens if we knew about them. (Think Watergate, Guantanamo Bay.) From this perspective, WikiLeaks brings about the opportunity to read and analyze government and military information, and gives the media a chance to tell real stories, and not regurgitate the official statements from our government.

On the other hand, to what degree should this type of information be made available? Will its ultimate use serve the goals of a free democracy, or highlight our secrets to those who would do us harm? Like most of my classmates have already said, John Mill would be cheering Assange from the highest rooftop. The inclusion of all of this formerly hidden information would, in his view, only further discussion from all sides and enhance the search for truth. I agree, but should truth override the safety of other human beings? In Engleberg’s ProPublica article he writes that through the 75,000 documents posted on WikiLeaks, it is “possible to identify Afghans who have cooperated with Western forces.” How ironic if the country they helped only served to facilitate their demise in the end by making their actions know to anyone. (Certainly, WikiLeaks can be accessed from any computer in the world.)

Should there - can there? - be a line drawn in which “secret” documents remain secret? Through our readings we know that the government secret stamp was used not only to protect information to keep us safe to protect those who made bad mistakes and tried to cover them up. But what if documents on WikiLeaks, or any other such site, truly compromise our national security and our personal safety?

After three paragraphs, I am still torn. I believe our government has shrouded many of its activities in secrecy, and I believe that we should have the right to be able to access that information and question the motives and decisions of our leaders. Whether it be Assange or any other political hacker, there will always be a select group of people fighting very hard for, as Ludlow wrote in The Nation about Levy and The Mentor’s hacker principles in the 1980s: “information should not be hoarded by powerful constituencies-it needs to be placed in the hands of the general public.” Online, the general public is anyone with a computer and Internet access. It can be a journalist, a library student, a teacher, or a member of an enemy military. Is it even possible for a site such as WikiLeaks to promote free access for all without putting anyone at risk?


  1. I agree with you Diana. I am also torn between people having the information, because we, as librarians, are all about the freedom of information. On this one, though, I feel that the only people who need to know that information are the government and military officials who are involved in the situations.

    I also feel that we shouldn't believe what is on this site. I have a hard time believing this Julian about what he is saying. How do we know that the information is correct? Maybe he is feeding the people incorrect information and that is why the government is so against him giving this information. Does anyone else feel this way?

  2. The anonymity of sources for WikiLeaks does raise some questions about authenticity, but the level of outrage from Congress and various military officials over the documents released seems to indicate that there's fire causing all the smoke, so to speak.

  3. Frederick, I asked my boyfriend (who does a lot of work for Emergency Management Agency (a product of FEMA)) about that issue. Why would the government make a big deal about them if they're not true? He said that the government is so upset because it isn't the truth and they would rather not have someone tossing around lies. You can take that how you want though. Makes you wonder who is right and who is wrong.

  4. As a point of order, the recent leaks concerning diplomatic memos and other State Department material are not in debate due to questions over their authenticity or veracity. State Department leaders and spokespersons and other government officials have not disputed the content or origin of these memos.

    The issue at hand is whether or not they should have been released to the public. The U.S. Government obviously feels that they should not have been, with some in the government examining the issue to the end of pressing criminal charges against the leakers and others involved. But they do not contest the authenticity of the documents.