10 December 2010

WikiLeaks and the future of Openness and Transparency

The world is in a storm this week over the leaks of more sensitive government documents on WikiLeaks, and the arrest of its founder Julien Assange.

Personally, I think Assange may be tapping from the dark side of the force… he doesn’t feel right to me. I’m all for press freedom, but I’m not sure he’s doing good when he posts things like, for instance, the names of hundreds of Afghanis who had helped US forces. When the names of those people were revealed, the Taliban forces basically said “thanks for the names, we’ll cross-reference with our wanted list and add the new targets”.

The greater debate that it raises however, about worldwide freedom of speech and openness of media, is very interesting. It’s certainly stirring things up, and it will be worth paying close attention to the outcome.

A TechCrunch article on the subject makes the assertion that openness and transparency will suffer from a backlash against the actions of WikiLeaks. You can bet that government agencies and organizations all over the world are going to crack down on access to secret information.

On the other hand, the existence of an independent free speech medium such as WikiLeaks is undeniably important. It provides a medium for people to anonymously share information that could be of critical importance to the world. The ethical territory is difficult and it will require us to think deeply as a society to discover how to move towards greater openness while maintaining our human integrity, and not unnecessarily endangering the lives and wellbeing of our fellows.

My main concern with Assange and WikiLeaks is not that the organization exists, nor that it does what it does, but something more subtle. In a grand chess game of light and dark, moves can be misleading. It could be that WikiLeaks is a force for powerful good in the world. It could also be that in his quest for domination the Dark Lord of the Sith would create something fundamentally good, but with a twist. The right thing at the wrong time. Or the right idea, pushed just a bit too far, so that people react against it instead of embracing it as part of a necessary conversation in the evolution of human society.

What balance of forces will emerge from this current fray? We must wait and see…