Finally, back on line!

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Hi Micah. I tried to respond to your recent post about wikileaks on your PDF blog, but apparently information isn’t so free, as I would need to give your site personal information in order to respond.

About wikileaks: sure, who doesn’t want to stymie authoritarian governments, and expose criminal wrong doing? America supports dissidents in China and Iran who use the internet to expose and criticize their governments, seems rather hypocritical to complain about wikileaks. It seems to me that the there are several issues about it — the effects, the intents, and the methods themselves.

The effects– well, we know more about how our diplomats work, and yes some are great writers and reporters. As for stymying an imperial government — most of what I’ve seen published has been failure to effect change — failure to stop arms merchants, failure to prevent nuclear buildup in Iran and North Korea, failure to prevent Russia from degenerating, failure to end the wars in Aghanistan and Iraq well. I don’t have time to read it all — I seem to have missed the parts about death camps, secret prisons, government ordered assassinations, torture (all the stuff that regular reporters managed to find out over the last 10 years). Mostly the cables seem to have exposed our negotiating positions more with allies we are having differences with than regarding enemies, and made it easier for enemies to gather information — who needs spies when you have Wikileaks?

As for intent, it looks to me like 9/11 all over again — people with no direct knowledge ascribing their own motives or desires. I saw so many after 9/11 claiming it was pay back by the third world for American imperialism in (Middle East, Africa, Asia, insert your cause of choice here..), or it was communists, whatever. When Osama bin Laden took credit, it was hard to get behind the latest Dr. Evil who wants to take over the world. Wikileaks looks great, until Assange does something you actually don’t agree with.. . which brings me to method.

Publishing on the internet can be a weapon (certainly the governments of China and Iran would agree). I fear that it will follow the path of other weapons from the past hundred years — nerve gas, nuclear bombs, rockets, suicide bombing. All are considered wonderful when exclusively used by “us” against “them”, but weapons have no ideology and can easily be turned against the user. Many Muslims were highly supportive of suicide bombing as a tactic when used against Israelis; now that it is being used against other Muslims (and against Muslim governments like Saudi Arabia), it looks very different.

What bothers me is I don’t know where to draw the line — electronic privacy vs. “free information” even against the will of the author/owner. It’s okay for whistleblowers to expose wrongdoing, identity theft not okay. Those may be the extremes; where do we draw the line? Government information, well it represents us and we pay for it, we should know what it is doing. Big public companies e.g. Microsoft, Goldman Sachs — they have big effects on the world, maybe we should know what is going on there. Personal Democracy Forum/TechPresident’s files — maybe or maybe not — do we want to see all your confidential information like personnel reviews, financial info, donor lists, all over the web? A journalist’s raw notes including confidential source information? Someone’s divorce negotiations? There’s no end to the information out there, all of which should be free until it’s ours in question. Who gets to decide what merits publication? Julian Assange? NYTimes had an article today on identity theft in the military because of indiscriminate use of social security numbers; not outrageous to think that Wikileaks has that info too; if you want to screw up the american military why not just pass it onto criminals?

Maybe what is most upsetting about the whole affair is how amateurish the US government electronic security is. In what sane world would an Army private be given access to all that material, that was irrelevant to his job? Would all your employees be allowed to access each other’s human resources files? No audit trail to see what someone is accessing? And if Manning could get all that data out, what prevents someone from putting data in? Modifying files that are there, or forging diplomatic documents with false information? All you need is some low-level functionary with a cause, and you can wreak electronic havoc. I fear that freeing information will end badly, like the other weapons of mass destruction from the past century, and I don’t see what can prevent this from happening. Best wishes — Eric

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