Wikileaks: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Make it Right
This week Wikileaks is once again filling the internet with previously secret, classified, or private documents, mostly having to do with US foreign policy and relations with other countries. This is sort of “classic Wikileaks”, as it gets to the heart of what they are trying to do: Expose everything all the time. While many people laud this as a noble goal, and some suggest this is some sort of great advancement for mankind, I am a little more cautious. For me, Wikileaks crosses a line from useful to dangerous, from informative to destructive.
The internet in general has sort of followed the path of “because we can do it”. Sometimes it is incredibly powerful, from things like Twitter and Youtube, and sometimes it is incredibly dangerous, like how the connectivity of the internet allows previously isolated pedophiles to meet people with similar interests and kinks. We have group to help people with obscure diseases, and on the other hand we have terrorists using the internet as their recruiting platform. The power of communication and the anonymous nature of the internet has pretty much created an open playing field where almost anything seems to exist.
The most aggressive of the “anything goes” movements play a game of hide and seek, locating their servers in various places around the world that are less likely to get them shut down. Some countries have legal systems that either do not function well, or that always fall on the side of those who choose to hide there. The problem is that their internet connection doesn’t stop at the border, which means that the rest of the world is dragged to whatever the lowest level is. Many of the piracy sites play this game, locating servers in places like Russian, Sweden, China, and the Middle East looking for jurisdictions that just don’t appear to have the time or desire to deal with the issues at hand.
It should come as no surprise that Wikileaks finds itself in the same data center that one the largest (and most notorious) pirating site around is hosted at. The Pirate Bay has spent years thumbing it’s nose at IP owners, publicly insulting them and generally holding the entire copyright system in disdain. The owners (although they claim not to be the owners, a brilliantly simplistic legal defense) are now getting tied in legal knots themselves, on the hook for millions of dollars. But this has taken years, and still the site is online.
Wikileaks shares more than a datacenter with The Pirate Bay, it shares an attitude. That attitude is that if you can do it, then you should do it. No consideration for the consequences, not consideration for anyone else, just do it. The posting of confidential, secret, and restricted government documents, especially when it is related to the security of the world is a very, very risky thing to do, tweaking the noses of pretty much the whole world.
Our world works on trust and cooperation. Sometimes countries are forced to deal with people they don’t particularly like or trust, in order to achieve a goal, to maintain a peace, to resolve a political issue, or even to help their own citizens in trouble around the world. The powerful nations of the world often want to obtain concessions or support from various countries and leaders, and have to pretty much horse trade to get it done. In order to build some trust and to get some cooperation, everyone has to give a little in order to get a little.
The documents in question this time around are from the US, and many of the reflect the personal thoughts of officials at various levels when it comes to dealing with various leaders and situations. I don’t think any one of us can say that we haven’t left a business meeting, or maybe from a major financial deal like buying a house or a car, and not said something about someone who was at the meeting. We deal with many people that we don’t like so much, understanding that in order to get what we want (the business, the house, the car… whatever), we sometimes have to work with people we don’t like very much. Much of it comes down to a sort respect for each other, where we realize that the other people probably don’t like us all that much either, but we respect each other and get the deal done.
Most of the western world runs on a legal system that is as much about respect as anything else. We don’t have a policeman on every corner, we don’t have the military in the streets. We manage to tolerate and respect each other enough not to have our system break down. Where there is a lack of respect and a lack of tolerance is where we see issues. In some places, you may have insurgents or terrorists, while most of us are more familiar with street gangs, organized crime, and so on. They all trace back to groups of people being either unwilling to follow the general laws that others follow, or are willfully violating those laws for profit or power.
In more practical terms, consider the idea of driving a car. In most place, we agree to what side of the road we should drive on, we have rules of the road like stop signs, traffic lights, and yes, speed limits. Yet, the cars we drive for the most part are easily capable of breaking all of these rules, we can ignore stop signs, we can run through red lights, and we can easily exceed the speed limits as posted. The good functioning of the roads and the safety of those one them however depend on us understanding that while we can do it, we really shouldn’t do it. Sure, most of us speed, some of us might roll a stop sign, and a few of us might ignore a light, but in the end we all generally work within the laws and the grey areas around them. We could break all the rules, we could tweak noses and drive twice the limit (and some do), but in the end, it is counter productive.
Wikileaks (and The Pirate Bay) are willfully ignoring the rules of the road, ignoring the risks to others on the road to meet their end goal. Just as someone driving very quickly may do it for a thrill, or may do it because they are late for something, the Wikileaks people are willfully ignoring the what we all generally agree to in order to meet their own selfish ends. Maybe they are just looking for a thrill, or maybe they have a political agenda, whatever it is, they are attempting to get there without considering for others.
Just because they can put the information on the internet doesn’t make it right. The Wikileaks people know this, as they hide their serves is tolerant countries, attempt to mirror their servers to avoid getting shut down, and generally just don’t have the guts to come out and do what they do in public. In the same manner that we don’t speed in front of the police, they just don’t have the guts to open a server in the countries they seek to infuriate, and refuse to accept the responsiblity for their actions. This isn’t a powerful act for freedom, it’s a cowardly form of information terrorism, spewed from the virtual versions of a smelly cave.
In the end, it isn’t right. Most of us know it, but fewer seem a ease with that knowledge.