Notes on the Wikileaks debacle
It is strange that Julian Assange has become a synonym of Wikileaks and all that has been leaked. While I am not in a position to comment on what will happen to Wikileaks after Julian Assange goes under or in prison, it is extremely important to remember that whatever has been released by Wikileaks was provided to it by random people who don’t work for Wikileaks and just wanted to release to the world whatever data they had.
For example, in the case of leaks of diplomacy cables, it was Private Bradley Manning who downloaded the data illegally, and shared it outside the security circle – also illegally – and in this case, to Wikileaks.
Wikileaks gets a lot of data, and then releases it to the public. In this way, it acts like normal media and its acts are indeed journalism. And it is important for journalists to hide the identity of its sources.
Now here comes the major problem that Wikileaks’ founders saw and wanted to mitigate: that for sufficiently damaging leak, governments will forgo the law (or create new ones) to catch the source and plug the leak. For example, a leak from Iran, North Korea or even China will surely get you death sentence.
To mitigate this problem, Wikileaks came up with a ‘legal invention’ – it routes all its data through those countries where strong privacy laws have been enacted. These countries include Sweden, France etc. It is the first media organization to do this, and it does so to prevent the privacy of its sources.
This ‘invention’ is not as groundbreaking as it sounds, and was pretty much inevitable especially after Wikipedia was already famous – and a lot of people say that even Wikipedia was inevitable. With a name like Wikileaks and an organization without personal journalists to inquire local news, major media corporations didn’t take Wikileaks seriously and didn’t think it necessary to implement this new way of preserving privacy. But Wikileaks was covered very well by most technology-related media and got enough exposure that technologically savvy people knew about it.
This has enabled Wikileaks to receive diverse information from countries like Somalia, Kenya, Peru etc.. It has been praised by many different media organizations for facilitation of these leaks – this was all, of course, before the leak of the video in April 2010 named ‘Collateral murder’ showing the killing of Iraqi civilians and journalists by US forces.
Making Julian Assange and Wikileaks stand for each other has muddied the water for debate. Mr. Assange has been accused of rape in Sweden (which has one of the toughest laws again rape in the world), and though the whole scenario looks a lot fishy, one must remember that Wikileaks has got nothing to do with it.
Most major media corporations have mostly focused on Mr. Assange’s whereabouts and the rape case, while noting how now public diplomatic cables didn’t reveal what wasn’t already known. This has two problems: a) most media organizations have failed to report on absurdity of the rape case thus causing a probably unintended but thoroughly biased view of Mr. Assange; b) and nothing was ‘known’, they were all guesses.
To further this confusion, the ‘legal invention’ has come to refer to Mr. Assange avoiding legal repercussion by using Internet in strongly protected countries to reveal the leaks of other countries. Even after forgoing the obviousness of this ‘legal invention’, we have two problems: All journalists report about foreign countries. This enables American journalists to report North Korea (a country with no/low protection for journalists), while remaining in USA (strongly protected democracy). This is how it has always worked. Mr. Assange is doing what everybody does, otherwise we would never hear news about North Korea or Iran lest they might hang our journalists. Secondly, Mr. Assange has not avoided any law. Remember that the leaks were done by Mr. Manning and he is already under arrest. The cat was out of the bag the moment Mr. Manning downloaded all the data to a USB flash drive. That was illegal and he will probably serve years in jail for that, but he could have as well chosen to share all the data to New York Times or People’s Daily. He probably realized the grave nature of his crimes and wanted to save his identity, so he chose the most secure channel – Wikileaks.
¤ Kindly inform about any factual inaccuracies in the comment section.