Wikileaks: good for politics or not?

I have to admit, I have been kind of on the fence about whether or not Wikileaks is good for society.

Does founder Julian Assange have an agenda against America? Will revealing these secrets further transparency or push secrets more into the dark? Does it further democracy or inhibit our ability to collect intelligence and protect our nation?

I think arguments for both sides (except maybe his anti-America agenda) have points.

Two of the best arguments I have read have been from and the blog Techdirt.

Anne Applebaum wrote for Slate that Wikileaks recent document dump will actually work against transparency, create more government secrecy and do the opposite of what Assange hopes.

“On the contrary, it seems that in the name of “free speech” another blow has been struck against frank speech. Yet more ammunition has been given to those who favor greater circumspection, greater political correctness, and greater hypocrisy.

Don’t expect better government from these revelations, expect deeper secrets. Will the U.S. ambassador to Country X give Washington a frank assessment of the president of X if he knows it could appear in tomorrow’s newspaper? Not very likely. Will a foreign leader tell any U.S. diplomat what he really thinks about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he knows it might show up on WikiLeaks? I doubt it. Diplomatic cables will presumably now go the way of snail mail: Oral communication will replace writing, as even off-the-record chats now have to take place outdoors, in the presence of heavy traffic, just in case anyone is listening.”

Over at Techdirt, the opposing argument is made, and I think quite well.

“The goal isn’t to expose all secrets or anything like that — but to reduce the ability of cabals of secrecy to form within governments, within which questionable plans might result.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat. As it tries to plug its own holes and find the leakers, he reasons, its component elements will de-synchronize from and turn against each other, de-link from the central processing network, and come undone. Even if all the elements of the conspiracy still exist, in this sense, depriving themselves of a vigorous flow of information to connect them all together as a conspiracy prevents them from acting as a conspiracy.

In both of these stories, it shows how a system based on centralization responds to a (very, very different) distributed threat. And, in both cases, the expected (and almost inevitable) response seems to play directly into the plans of those behind the threat. In a way, it’s quite fascinating. Of course, in the case of terrorism, it’s frustrating, because the response only serves to further harm the country and its people. But with a situation like Wikileaks, it’s potentially quite a good thing. As noted, these kinds of leaks can help us have a better, less corrupt government that is more responsive to the people it actually represents.”

I find myself leaning toward the latter. While I think Applebaum has a great point, and I think much of what she supposes will happen, Wikileaks definitely makes it more difficult to conduct things in secret. And if that is the case, government officials will be less inclined to do things in secret and therefore will be unable to get away with as much corruption.


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