Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiUgh, or how annoying some reactions to WikiLeaks are.

Think what you want about WikiLeaks, there isn't much to like about Julian Assange's "style."  He kind of sounds like an egomaniacal prick.  And yet I was disappointed that people - ones I usually find to be rational and above this kind of thing - can't somehow get over his persona in their assessment of the latest dump of data or what WikiLeaks does, generally.

Last night, Jon Stewart couldn't help himself and make fun of Assange.  This was right before he postulated that "If there's total transparency, we won't really see anything."  How deep.

Then Ezra Klein chimed in: "I'm not sure this guy's incentives -- which by now include impact and publicity -- are really trustworthy."

Really guys, ad hominem attacks?  

How strange that we didn't see any of those reactions (definitely not from the liberals), when the leaks were exposing horrific information about the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I suppose that was barely noteworthy?  Or maybe that was stuff that validated their opinions?  But now that WikiLeaks published a whole bunch of mundane info from the State Department (thought not all of it was totally dull - and I am not talking about the gossipy crap about various foreign leaders, I mean stuff like this, which seems to be getting totally lost in the shuffle - not unsurprisingly), we are all up in arms about the propriety of what Assange is doing?  Really?

The more bizarre line of reasoning that I first saw emerge in a Brooks column here, is that this disclosure will damage the global conversation or even the ability of US diplomats to do their work.  I don't find that entirely convincing, but it's not totally without merit:  I suppose having your raw thoughts about someone plastered all over the internet probably doesn't help your relations.   I can see that.

But then yesterday, looking at the prospect of a data dump from a major US bank, Ezra Klein took that argument even further, and argued that this kind of disclosure will stymie information sharing of all kind:

"If he's really effective, the likely outcome won't be that people know more, but that they know less, as major institutions -- both public and private -- will stop sharing their information so widely internally and stop writing so much of it down. That means decision-makers will know less, bureaucrats and managers will know less, reporters will know less, historians will know less, and so on."

I suppose so if it wasn't for the fact that short of verbally communicating everything - which is impossible - there is no way to avoid digital communication and record-keeping in this day and age.  First, it is simply impractical, and second, people are dumb and will always put self-incriminating shit in writing.  As an example, a full decade after the original Wall Street email scandal (analysts pushing tech stock and calling them a piece of crap in private emails), we had the exact same thing happen with mortgage securities (trader's salling products they called crap to clients to whom they have full disclosure and fiduciary duties).  

Besides, at the other extreme, is the implication that we should never publish incriminating records and prosecute accordingly for the fear that we may inspire corporate insiders to sensor their written communications?  More importantly, why exactly would they feel the need to sensor themselves if they aren't doing anything sinister?  Or are we now concerned about protecting criminals?  

2 comments:

Jazzie Casas said...

I remember the last time there was a "Wikileaks," and it very much like this time.

Now, as then, I encountered very strong but differing opinions/perceptions about it. Some/many people explicitly support "Wikileaks" and regard it/Julian Assange as good, and others explicitly condemn it/him -but I've yet to see anyone clearly identify much less defend their reasoning. This seems strange to me, and almost makes me suspicious. What exactly is the issue here? For disclosure, I'm undecided on the issue -because I simply do not know enough to know if Wikileaks is good or bad. I'm aware that JA is accused of a sexual crime in Europe. I will say that as someone who values truth and honesty, I have at least a little suspicion and/or skepticism of advocacy of GOVERNMENT secrecy (although I understand it it necessary at least sometime). What exactly is going on with WikiLeaks and why exactly is it wrong or right? And HOW is this information being obtained? It confuses me that I hear people harshly condemning it and saying "this person should be tried for treason and executed, etc."IF a serious law has been broken, I'd expect it to be cited and used as the basis for advocating the pursuit of formal charges.Was the information leaked acquired by consent (shared/sold by those who controlled it) or stolen? I haven't seen this clearly established anywhere, which seems weird as it is clearly a significant consideration. If anyone can clarify this, I'd be grateful, thanks. I'm also VERY curious why I've yet to hear it clearly identified.






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Alex K said...

The classified information is alleged to have been passed on to WikiLeaks by Bradley Manning who was charged and is being prosecuted for it. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradley_Manning

Of course there are people for it and against it. During the previous leaks, the loudest opponents were on the political right. The shift I was talking about (at least in part of my post) is in how some commentators have turned against WikiLeaks and Assange after the latest leak even though you didn't hear them make those statements after previous leaks (which were about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). How now suddenly more transparency is bad because it will lead to increasing secrecy. And then I make the point that I find this extremely unlikely, especially in the corporate setting - which is what the blogger I linked to was suggesting.

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