Obviously everyone in the world has heard about Wikileaks and its associated controversies. It seems like the site itself has to keep moving to avoid various attacks, but at the moment it can be found here.
My strong first impulse is to be in favor of shining light in secret places. This can be taken to extremes, of course; there is such a thing as appropriate privacy, for governments and corporations as well as for individuals. But the natural tendency on the part of governments (or bureaucracies more generally) is to go too far to the other extreme, making secrecy routine where it should be exceptional — and using it to cover up embarrassment rather than protecting people’s lives. Something like Wikileaks is a great corrective to this tendency.
I don’t really see, however, how something like the wholesale release of diplomatic cables helps this cause. Some of the cables might have been covered up for pernicious reasons, but for the most part diplomats should have an expectation of privacy in these kinds of communications, as much as an ordinary citizen would when making a phone call. This doesn’t seem like a brave strike against government corruption as much as a bit of leering Peeping-Tommery. I’d personally be happier if Wikileaks were a bit more selective in what it shared with the world.
Personally, the most depressing aspect of the whole affair — even more than the cartoonish responses from craven politicians — has been the attitude of the established media. Sure, they will publish the stories, although usually accompanied by some sort of meek apologia. But on TV and in the op-ed pages, there is enormously more discussion about Julian Assange and Wikileaks itself than about what we have actually learned from the documents. A lot of people in the media these days consider themselves to be more like partners with government, rather than respectful adversaries. I’d love to see more thoughtful pieces about what we’ve learned from all these documents about how the world actually works.
Regardless of the ambiguities, I certainly hope Wikileaks keeps going. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “The press, confined to truth, needs no other legal restraint.” Or as Ruben Bolling more recently tweeted: “If a journalist is walking down the street, and happens to find a box of secret government documents, what should he do?” Telling the truth is always a good first strategy.