As the WikiLeaks saga trundles on, the wider issues raised by recent events provide fascinating discourse on the impact the internet continues to have on society and democracy.
That a security breach such as ‘Cablegate’ was enabled via a Lady Gaga CD and instigated by a lonely US army intelligence officer, is both bizarre and worrying given that an organisation such as the US Defence Department was not alive to the threat posed by removable storage media. However, what is perhaps more concerning is the fact that so much incriminating, politically-sensitive, and often highly subjective commentary was available to download in the first place.
Surely one of the first protocols in business communication is that you do not create a written record of anything that you would not want to be seen – whether intentionally or otherwise? An off-the-cuff comment such as a ‘good day to bury bad news’, or a mischievous list of activities that a visiting religious leader might like to undertake when on a state visit for example, might well have been meant for privileged eyes only, or as part of an internal circular, but have subsequently caused major offence and a proverbial PR nightmare when inadvertently making their way into the public domain.
Whilst the publishing of such information has traditionally been the realm of the so-called free press, whistle-blowing sites such as WikiLeaks provide an important channel for privileged information to make its way into the public domain. Reactions to the recent releases have ranged far and wide across the spectrum, but as rightly pointed out by Aljazeera, a question that has largely been overlooked is: just how valuable is the information revealed? Certainly it has been very embarrassing for many governments as their dirty laundry is very publicly aired, whilst some argue that national and international security have also been placed at risk, but the potential for such information to lead to a closer re-examination of alleged injustices is far-reaching.
Indeed, the WikiLeaks saga has been instrumental in widening the debate on internet democracy and calls into question the legality of the actions taken by both public and private entities in recent weeks to stifle the site. As for WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, he has managed to upset just about every powerful figure and nation going, so perhaps Wandsworth prison remains the safest place for him.