The arrest of wikileaks founder Julian Assange is not an attack on democracy, free speech or any other such hyperbole you may want to throw at it, but a curious example of Sweden’s bizarre rape laws which seeks to criminalise consensual sex between two adults. No-one is above the law however, even the really really stupid laws, and the push to make Assange some sort of political prisoner for his sexual misadventures is misguided.
But enough about that, I’m hear to talk about wikileaks and why I disagree with it.
I agree with whistle blowing, openness and accountability, I also agree that governments need to conduct some matters in private. There is not a clear line that can show where a piece of classified information should be kept secret and where exposing it is in the public interest. Assange’s opinion seems to be that exposing truth is justified in all circumstances and any attempt by government to keep certain things classified is akin to corruption. What about when it is government information on private citizens however? I dont think many of the Assange supporters would support a massive leak of documents of the Australian Tax Office, that could be private information about them. Whats that, you dont support a leak of government medical records, that could have information on you. Well what about the private citizens names in the hundreds of thousands of leaked documents in the recent embassy cable and Iraq and Afghanistan leaks? Its nice and easy to be all for openness and accountability when the spotlight isn’t shining on you.
A silly comparison you say? Wikileaks is about shining the light on corrupt governments. But of the quarter of a million cablegate leaks most are fairly mundane diplomatic chatter. Americans think Prince Andrew is rude, Rudd a control freak. Its hardly Watergate, its more Perez Hilton. Sure, there are more important leaks such as confirmation of US nukes in Turkey and the former opposition leader saying he would back the US in a China/Taiwan standoff and I would defend wikileaks goal’s and mission if its leaks were reduced to just things that exposed corruption and governments lying to the people. But that is not what wikileaks is about.
Julian Assange is a former hacker and he carries the hacker mentality into wikileaks. More and more the leaks aren’t about what they reveal but how large the leaks are and how secret. Its about getting what is hardest to get, what is most protected and what will give the biggest reason to boast. Journalists dont publish everything that is confidential, they use their judgement to publish what is in the public interest. There is never a clear line as to where the public interest begins, but Assange’s idea of public interest seems to be any government material that is private.
A few months ago the national broadsheet felt the need to out a small time blogger and tweeter called @grogsgamut as a Canberra public servant and deemed it in the public interest because he had commented on politics and the head of the abc had mentioned him. The Australia deemed this “in the public interest” but most people saw it as a gross invasion of privacy with little justification. By and large the people that opposed Grog’s outing now support wikileaks, curious how opposing values of privacy and openness are so easily interchangeable. I’ll damn you to hell for outing a left-wing public servant but diplomatic cables about Prince Andrews manners are vital for all to know?
There will never be a clear line for where a right to privacy stops and transparency and openness begins, and with the internet lines will get blurred and redefined. Wikileaks seems less and less about fighting corruption than it is about redefining privacy by publishing anything it can get its hands on.
Update: Some other interesting wikileaks related posts.
Malcolm Turnbull is quite measured and sensible on the subject and doesnt seem interested in the current demonising US conservatives are in to.
Mischa76 on wikileaks
Update 2: More info on the rape charges, doesnt seem as ridiculous as before.