Yesterday I saw a surprising post on twitter in which Ivo Vegter was being extremely critical of Julian Asange and wikileaks. This surprised me as I would have thought that Ivo's strong libertarian leanings would make him a fan of wikileaks. So I asked him what he thought.
He replied (Note that I am very slightly paraphrasing to keep the meaning clear out of context): "Wikileaks is anarchistic I am not. Their actions are extra-legal and undermines government's ability to protect life, liberty and property".
I chose not to answer that at the time, rather just to thank him for the clarification – because I wanted to think about it. In the end I return to the opinion though that we need wikileaks. The idea of wikileaks isn't actually new – sites like it have existed (and posted more revealing works than they did) for as long as the internet has been around. What Julian Asange did however was the one thing none of the underground sites achieved: he got famous.
Now I saw Penguin Pete's statement that this is a bad thing – but I disagree. What Asange's fame did was to bring these secrets out into the public consciousness. No longer are they just something that gets posted, and a few people read – and the newspapers ignore. Now they are big news – the newspapers are under pressure to publish – and the promise of the internet comes true – everybody knows.
I disagree with Ivo most strongly, because I never thought the government was all that good a way to protect life, liberty and property in the first place, and in fact many libertarians do agree – going so far as to believe that police forces should be disbanded and private security companies do law enforcement.
My old love for cyberpunk however is heartened by these events. The internet was built by anarchists, the old school hackers (in the original meaning of the word) – share and share alike, a voice for everybody, no central control, no government, nor rule or authority – and proved that a system like that can in fact work. The original social network (slashdot.org) managed to build a powerful community in the complete absense of rules by a simple system of community-self-moderation proving that there are always enough voices of sanity who will promote other sane voices so that the trolls and flamers get drowned by the noise.
But then slashdot was never afraid of somebody saying "fuck" on their forums.
It all started to rather fall apart. The more popular the net became, the more it's focus shifted to sites where -rather than anonymity we were forced into revealing too much – the facebook corporate 1984. Instead of anarchism we became slaves to the authority of the companies behind those sites…
Wikileaks is not a new phenomenon but rather proof that the old-school hackers are still around. The most recent cables are showing proof that the state department sanctioned and in fact helped cover up a party where Dynacorp made boys aged between 8 and 12 years old available to potential business partners in Afghanistan – to be raped, as a tool for business recruitment !
This is the kind of things that are happening in the world. It's what governments are really spending our money on.
So unlike Ivo I do not for one moment think that wikileaks is harming governments ability to protect rights, on the contrary the culture of enforced openness, of no-more-secrets has one guaranteed effect: forcing them to actually do that. In a world without cover-ups and classified cables, governments cannot sanction and cover up the rape of young boys. Governments can be the worst violators of rights there are. The rights of their own citizens and of other countries (if they are effectively ruling the country during a state of war then they'll do it worst of all – as the USA is in Afghanistan now).
What wikileaks have done is to make the revelations of these crimes impossible to prevent- and in so doing it has done more to protect our rights from our government than any amount of oversight committees (who themselves are bound by classification) ever could. I don't trust corporations – and I don't trust governments. The executive branches of governments are the least trustworthy of all -and most importantly, the money they violate rights with is my money. Our money. We have a right to know what that money is spent on. We sanctioned it's expenditure on the protection of our rights, and the provision of those services which are best done on a "profit for the community rather than the provider" basis. We have a right to audit every penny because it's NOT their money. It's ours.
It may be illegal – but it's not immoral and frankly it shouldn't be. I would not let my stockbroker invest my money without telling me what he invests it in – every cent. Why the hell would anybody imagine the government should get to spend our money without accounting for every penny ? Without us knowing exactly what we're paying for ? When you're paying to have the rape of young boys covered up – you have a right to find out about it, and the people who risk their lives and liberty so that you may know about it are heroes.
Finally – I believe that the less secrets there are in warfare, the more civilized it must by nature become – and ultimately if we're lucky it becomes impossible. Whistleblowers end wars. I still say Asange should get the next Nobel Peace Prize. He's done more to end the Afghanistan war already than Obama ever could.