Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Week 12: WikiLeaks

I remember hearing about WikiLeaks in recent news, but I didn't understand what all the fuss about. It just sounded like a Wikipedia-esque website that has gotten itself into hot water. Then, for this class assignment, I took a peek into their archives and was impressed by the brevity of what I had access to. The About WikiLeaks page is not shy about the information its archives has to offer: everything from abuse reports to government corruption, environmental crimes and prison conditions. In the Peter Ludlow article, the section that really stood out to me was this:

"In a profile of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, the man accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks, the New York Times considered many explanations for what Manning did. He was troubled because "classmates made fun of him for being gay"; he was "ignored" by his superiors; he was "self-medicating."...[When asked about the data] Manning replied in true hacktivist fashion, "Because it's public data...it belongs in the public domain...information should be free...if it's out in the open...it should [do the] public good." (Ludlow 16). So in light of the DADT controversy, we have a private who spills government secrets to WikiLeaks because he is possibly getting harassed for his homosexuality. Yet, he remains calm and gives a statement that would make any librarian's heart go pitter-patter: he feels this information should be free.

I am fascinated by the WikiLeaks story, and I think I will be frequenting its archives more often to see what I can learn. The latest WikiLeaks Twitter tweet is rather ominous: "Pentagon says it expects 'nothing new' in next Wikileaks dump. 'Nothing new' to THEM goes without saying." As a future librarian, something tells me I should keep paying attention to this phenomenon of making government secrets instantly public.


  1. I think I was supposed to do a blog entry for this week but am doing comments instead. As Sarah said, the posts this week have been so interesting, and I'd like to contribute my own responses to the readings and WikiLeaks. I, like some others, hadn't ever heard of WikiLeaks before this week. And (confession) I had to look up what the Pentagon Papers are/were, and feel even more like a less-informed citizen. :)

    The article on WikiLeaks and Hacktivist Culture (2010) made me really think about the concepts that this movement tries to combine. Hacking and ethics? Definitely not a "mash-up" I'd ever considered prior to this week. This quote stood out to me: "It has long been an ethical principle of hackers that ideas and information are not to be hoarded but are to be shared" (Levy, 1984). I don't know about this all... I'll admit, I'm hesitant to jump on the "all information should be shared." Perhaps in the future we will see more generational shifts in individuals' privacy preferences, but at my ripe young age of 23, I certainly still value my privacy enough to advocate for pushback against efforts to track people's personal information (phone taps, monitoring web activities, Google spying on people's accounts? That's the latest I've heard).

    Synonymous to the government not wanting official documents leaked to the public for fear of embarrassment, as some of the articles alluded to, I think it is most certainly true that most individuals would not want their personal information - especially personal information available digitally - to be leaked to the government or otherwise. I like to think that JSM would agree with me in some respect. I think he would have advocated for the dissemination of information and ideas that people intend to be made public, and maybe even people's personal beliefs and private opinions, but I don't think he would have called for exploitation of individual privacy.

    With that being said, however, I don't think the two examples (gov and official docs, people and personal info) are entirely synonymous. I think there is a certain degree of accountability for which our government is responsible, and media like WikiLeaks help keep the government transparent and the public informed. But even then (can you see how much of a teeter-totter this week has been??), is there such as thing as too-informed citizenry, and if so, are there potentially dangerous consequences that could follow?

    People have a right to be informed, yes. People have a right to hold their government accountable, yes. But don't these statements seem to echo the very same statements used to justify the Patriot Act, or things like forcing people to prove their citizenship when questioned because of their ethnicity? That our national government has a right, no, an obligation to protect its citizenry, and that they have a right - as government officials - to monitor any potentially dangerous activity (how's that for snowball subjectivity). It would be very unfortunate to see what some may believe are the "redeeming characteristics" of hacking have the tables turned on them by a government more than capable (and probably already doing so currently) of doing as much ethical hacking but in the name of national security.

  2. I very much like Katherine's point about how the same argument can be used regarding the rights and duties of the people - by the people and by the people's government. Myself, I think hacking is hilarious - up to the point that information about me is susceptible and/or leaked. I also think that there is a difference between government transparency and military transparency. The difference has to do with where the power lies. In government, the power lies with the people - so transparency strengthens our power, allowing us to fulfill our duties as informed citizens. But when the military is in question - especially during times of war and deployment - the power does not lie with the people (for better or worse). So for me, transparency takes on a different tone depending on where the power lies.