Friday, November 19, 2010

Wikileaks: Info Supreme

Leakphoto © 2010 Thomas Angermann | more info (via: Wylio)
One of the first things I noticed when I came to the wikileaks site was the lack of controlled vocabulary. It's nice to see a break down into categories, but to my eyes "FRIENDLY FIRE" is likely the same as "Friendly Fire." There could be a difference between capitalized and not capitalized, and I could see an argument for limiting the amount of keywords to preserve the raw data aspect of it. But if the mission is to make this information available to the general population, then making the UI and search options better seem a good place to start. Mr. Assange did mention in his interview on democracy now that they were going to beef up the search options, so I suppose they're looking into it. This was just one aspect of it's inaccessibility that I found. Not that people can't get at it, but it's hard to understand what's going on.

Like Mel, I am a bit overwhelmed and confused as to what I'm actually looking at on the site. The check box for expanding acronyms is huge. A really good feature. Still though, it's hard to draw conclusions about anything on there without some serious research. For this reason I think the idea of forming a news "coalition" was probably a good move on Assange's part. The three newspapers are in more a position to review and extract important parts to the records. That said, there is always the danger of losing the forest for the trees and I think Assange made a good point in his interview that when people ask him what the most shocking thing is he talked about the more long term patterns rather than a single incident. I imagine most people want to find their My Lai Massacre for these army operation instead of seeing many smaller infractions that add up to bad moves on the part of the military.

The most interesting thing I learned from Assange's interview was not actually about wikileaks at all, but instead when he was talking about revealing his sources he said how it was illegal to do so in Sweden (one of those Scandinavian countries anyway), making me again wish I could get back to my Norwegian roots. In general, I feel a bit like the whole wikileaks issue in the same way one of our classmates (sorry I forgot who) felt about challenging books. While people revealing secret information and government trying to squash those people are both a bit problematic, the struggle between the two sides is very democratic just as the act of challenging a book. I definitely think that some information is important to keep secret, but it's likely that a lot of what is classified doesn't really need to be so, and it's investigative journalists job to find said information. Hurray for equilibrium through conflict.


  1. As always, my favorite way to start out examining this topic, as many, is to ask what our constant companion throughout this course, J.S. Mill, might do or say regarding WikiLeaks? What do you (all) think? How does WikiLeaks measure up to the Mill points?

  2. Regarding controlled vocabulary, Daniel, I noticed the terms "infastructure" and "infrastructure" right next to each other. I don't think "infastructure" is a word unless it's a military thing I don't know about.

  3. Daniel, while I was doing a bit of reading up on WikiLeaks, I found an article by Farhad Manjoo, technology writer for Slate. The article is predominantly about whether or not source anonymity is compatible with WikiLeaks philosophy of radical transparency. But in the first paragraph Manjoo describes some of what WikiLeaks does to safeguard the anonymity of its sources. They encrypt all their transmissions, keep no logs, and scrub the documents of any digital signatures or other features that may lead to the identity of their source(s). I thought it was interesting, you may want to take a look.