The NYT and WikiLeaks

The NY Times posted a brief video of Executive Editor Bill Keller and others describing the Times’ involvement last year with WikiLeaks’ release of U.S. government military and diplomatic documents.  At 6.5 minutes it is not an in-depth story, but it provides some interesting information.  For instance, the Times, not WikiLeaks, redacted the names of Afghan informants from the military field reports.  Julian Assange was prepared to release the entire document trove without redaction.

“The Ethics of WikiLeaks”

The above-titled Institute for Global Ethics piece explores right-versus-right elements of the WikiLeaks story:

This latest play has caused pundits to scramble toward one pole or the other. Some see WikiLeaks as a radiant shaft of light, cutting through official obfuscation and sharing vital information every citizen deserves to know. Others see it as a treasonous breach of confidentiality, seizing up the well-oiled protocols of international negotiation and endangering the lives of military, diplomatic, and intelligence operatives around the world. Blinded by such polarizations, few see the story for what it is: a right-versus-right dilemma raising profound questions about the role of information in a democracy.

It concludes with a perspective I’ve not seen elsewhere:

In the end, then, WikiLeaks is about how we define war. A citizenry in a state of war makes short shrift of those who disclose such secrets. A citizenry in a state of peace tolerates and even encourages them. How we view WikiLeaks depends on which state we think we’re in.

More on WikiLeaks

In my Internet law course we talk about some of the Internet cultures that formed in the 1990’s–techno-Utopians, anarchists, parliamentarian legalists, and royalists, to borrow Julian Dibble’s categories. Many students wonder why.  These categories from a lost world have little relevance to the environment in which they Facebook and SMS; it’s like discussing Whigs and Tories.  I tell them these cultures still exist and can shape current debates about Internet governance, but I’m sure this sounds academic.  But what I love about teaching Internet law is how events coincide with class discussions.  Anyone who doubts the relevance of  the forces these categories represent has not heard of WikiLeaks.

More WikiLeaks articles, reaction, and analysis:


You Heard It Here First

By the way, I think I am on to something with my statement in the previous post that Julian Assange may have a Christ Complex (“a psychological term used loosely to describe any individual mentally fixed on superiority and/or the claim of being a savior. It is not exclusive to Christian thought.”)  The messianic belief in information transparency as an end in itself, itinerant spreading of the word, indifference to material acquisitions, persecution by sovereign powers, willingness to sacrifice himself for his cause, zealous followers–the pieces are there.  As soon as my wise-ass self wrote the words as a clever jest I hauled up and said what a minute . . . that’s who he is.  Before writing this current post a Google search of <“julian assange” “christ complex”> produced 39 hits, in many of which the searched terms are present only coincidentally. So if “assange christ complex” becomes a meme, remember this blog was way, way ahead of the curve.

Which raises another question:  will Mel Gibson play Assange in the WikiLeaks movie?  [<“mel gibson” “christ complex”> 606 hits]

Today’s Amazon Special: Flip-Flops

Amazon.com has taken brief, Kerry-esque, we-were-for-it-until-we-were-against-it stands on recent controversies.

  • That’s What Pedophilia Means? A month ago Amazon.com received heat for selling The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct, a self-published rulebook by the self-appointed Mr. Manners of pedophilia.   Amazon.com defended its right to sell–and purchasers’ right to purchase–books on controversial topics.  “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.  Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”   Amazon.com should have added “we will continue to support this right for 24 hours or until we cave to customer pressure, whichever occurs first.”  One day later it pulled the book–figuratively, of course, and without comment–from its electronic shelves. I am mildly critical of its decision not to sell the book. The First Amendment protects the book’s content, repellent as it may be, but Amazon.com’s mission is selling stuff, not defending First Amendment rights.  On a continuum of American values Amazon.com is closer to Wal-Mart and Sears than Feisty Independent Urban Bookstore.  My values are not Wal-Martian (pronounced “mar-tee-an”, nor “marshan”) but I respect that Wal-Mart would have known it’s opposition to the Pedophile’s Guide from jump. Amazon.com should have known more of its customers would howl in protest than applaud its courage.  It should have known that however heady the experience of staunchly defending the Bill of Rights, defiance in the face of threatened boycotts is not in its corporate DNA.  Better to be honest and say “we sell so much stuff that inappropriate content sometimes gets through our filters. We respect the First Amendment but we respect our customers’ patronage more.  We screwed up and we’re pulling the book.  Be aware it is likely to happen again, because we sell so much stuff that we can’t monitor all of it.”
  • We’re Hosting That WikiLeaks? Hackers targeted WikiLeaks after its release of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic documents.  Last week WikiLeaks moved its server operations to Amazon.com which, in addition to selling lots of stuff, hosts other websites, offering them the same robust protection from DDoS attacks and other hacker misanthropy that it provides itself.  A few days later Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman called Amazon with pointed questions about hosting WikiLeaks on its cloud servers.  A day later, denying Lieberman’s criticism was the cause, Amazon.com terminated WikiLeaks’ hosting account.  Why?  Because WikiLeaks’ was violating Amazon.com’s Terms of Service by providing access to content–the diplomatic cables–that violated a third-party’s rights to the content. This was not a late-breaking development in the WikiLeaks story. It moved its hosting to Amazon.com because it wanted protection from DDoS attacks directed at WikiLeaks in retaliation for its release of the cables.  A cynic might believe that WikiLeaks played Amazon.com like a cheap harmonica, knowing its penchant for waffling would result in Amazon.com throwing WikiLeaks back into the cold, cruel world only days after offering shelter.*

*Which makes me wonder if WikiLeaks founder/face/czar Julian Assange has a Christ complex.  But that’s a topic for another post.

WikiLeaks II

The best source I’ve found of potential criminal charges in connection with WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic correspondence is from the Congressional Research Service.  Dated December 6, written by Legislative Attorney Jennifer K. Elsea, and 21 pages long, Criminal Prohibitions on the Publication of Classified Defense Information describes the leaked documents, communications between WikiLeaks and the U.S. Government, the criminal statutes protecting classified information, and other relevant legal issues.  It includes this summary:

This report identifies some criminal statutes that may apply, but notes that these have been used almost exclusively to prosecute individuals with access to classified information (and a corresponding obligation to protect it) who make it available to foreign agents, or to foreign agents who obtain classified information unlawfully while present in the United States. Leaks of classified information to the press have only rarely been punished as crimes, and we are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it. There may be First Amendment implications that would make such a prosecution difficult, not to mention political ramifications based on concerns about government censorship. To the extent that the investigation implicates any foreign nationals whose conduct occurred entirely overseas, any resulting prosecution may carry foreign policy implications related to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction and whether suspected persons may be extradited to the United States under applicable treaty provisions.

WikiLeaks

Tomorrow’s Internet law class-our last this semester–will focus on WikiLeaks.  (Good luck loading wikileaks.org.  The first topic may be “if a website’s URL does resolve to the site’s home page, does the site exist?” Another of the top four Google responses to a search for wikileaks.org also failed to load: http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/.    The two sites that loaded, with links to the leaked U.S. diplomatic correspondence, are http://213.251.145.96/ and   http://213.251.145.96/cablegate.html.)  This week it is hard not to find news stories, blog posts, rants, and raves about WikiLeaks’ dissemination of the diplomatic cables.  In no particular order, with no endorsement of their respective stances, and with no representation that these are the best courses of information, here is some of what I’ve read:

I’ll post more links when I access my laptop at school.

WikiLeaks is a mother lode of discussion topics:  freedom of speech, freedom of the press, national security, criminal law, extradition, ethics, Internet culture, network architecture, network security, file-sharing technology, citizen journalism, hacking, the 24-hour news cycle . . . and more, no doubt.

Hypocrisy, for example. WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s stated goal for WikiLeaks is to puncture organizations that maintain their authority by conspiring to hide information about their activities. In other words, secrecy–whether practiced by the United States government or sorority Alpha Sigma Tau–is inherently bad, therefore revealing secrets is inherently good.  Zunguzungo.com’s* lengthy, reverential exegesis of Assange’s writings favorably characterizes his definition of a conspiracy as “simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction.”  Let’s see–network of associates . . . act in concert . . . hide concerted association . . . prevent visibility to outsiders . . . not accountable to anyone . . . doesn’t that perfectly describe WikiLeaks and its supporters?

Unless the topic is, say, engineering or math, I distrust binary thinking.  Reducing complex problems to black-and-white alternatives requires no thought, no analysis, no understanding of human nature, no judgment, no room for growth, no self-doubt, no capacity to listen, no compassion, no heart, no soul, none of what is special about humanity.   Assange’s blind faith in transparency makes him just another True Believer whose ego requires imposing his beliefs on the world.

*Which the website defines, apparently, as “harmonization [variant: harm minimization]”**

**To which I reply, wtf?