Wikileaks: Freedom of Expression on the Internet

“The reaction to the Wikileaks story exposes the heady mixture of self-delusion that passes for debate on freedom of information, transparency of government, re-use of public information, secure data sharing, data protection, information assurance, information security, information risk management and even net neutrality.”

Earlier this year, Wikileaks posted a video of US military personnel launching an airstrike that killed unarmed Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists. In addition to the public outrage, this provoked an interesting debate about where the line between the right to freedom of information and the interests of national security should be drawn. The debate rages on this month as Wikileaks releases more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables simultaneously around the world revealing confidential information about many countries around the world.

Questions about what is actually in the public interest have been raised by many. On the one hand, Julian Assange, the website’s founder, has been hailed as a hero by some for holding the governments to account as well as revealing clear security issues within the US. On the other, he has been criticised as an ‘information terrorist’ who is putting the lives of many civilians and military troops in danger. The US government has condemned the release of the cables as ‘reckless and dangerous action’ that will not only hurt foreign relations, but also leave the US open to attack. One cable, released today, provides a secret list of facilities that the US considers vital to national security, including hundreds of pipelines, undersea cables and factories around the world. Security experts say that the cable is a gift to potential terrorists.

Others, including journalists, highlight the flaws in the actual delivery of the information rather than the act of revealing the cables themselves. It is argued that the information (which reveals the lies and hypocrisy of governments) is clearly information that the public has a right to know. However, the way in which Wikileaks ‘threw’ the information at the public with little or no screening and no context or background or analysis, can be deemed irresponsible and immature. Ultimately, it is argued, Wikileaks has failed to achieve its primary objective: to use the leaked cables to prevent a recurrence of such practices or to hold the perpetrators to account.

Despite many passionate views on the subject, it is probably too early to really predict the long-term consequences of ‘cablegate’ but one thing is clear: that, in the light of internet journalism and social networking sites, freedom of expression is taking of a new form. Technology is exposing us to a much wider range of information than ever before, making it more and more difficult to keep information confidential. The Wikileaks saga (and official reactions to it) brings the issue of cybercrime to the fore (and also shifts the focus from individual privacy to the government). In particular, the issue is one about open source movement which operates without borders and can be accessed by anyone (not unlike music sharing sites). While the internet was originally praised as a wholly unregulated state of affairs, this is no longer the case. The EU is one of the less aggressive regulators (especially compared to the US or China) but it has been suggested that this is slowly changing and will have a major impact on the rights and duties of the media in the future.


1 Response to “Wikileaks: Freedom of Expression on the Internet”

  1. 1 s32 December 7, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Technology is not a thread.
    But maybe this is a good thing….

    We need proper steering mechanism to survive the global society we created with technology.

    Whould we have gone to Iraq over Weapons of mass destruction is we were part of the diplomatic cable discussion ? more upcomming leader ego’s/shortvision ? Better of with more transparency ? CreditCrises / Cable gate shows government is not so much in control of the global society. Wasn’t it work of the press to tell us the truth ?

    At least the cork out of the bottle. Fact is that secrets are harder to keep anno 2010. post-it-all 1-to:world. Shutting down is naive. Discuss it is the only option.. common free press, were are you?

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