WikiLeaks versus the book-burners

Freedom going up in digital flames

Freedom going up in digital flames

What if WikiLeaks were a book? Would governments be sending in their bully-boys to trash the bookstore? Would they try to put the publisher out of business?

And what sort of democratic government would idly stand by while others did such things? Indeed, wouldn’t such a government act to protect the bookstore, protect the publisher — something to do with freedom of speech I think.  I would have thought so until I see the difficulty WikiLeaks is having.

The persecution of WikiLeaks is tantamount to book-burning, and instead of bully-boys, we have hackers. What is worse is the complicity in what appears to be at least state-sanctioned actions by firms like Amazon (aren’t they in the freedom to read anything business?), PayPal (so much for open borders and free movement of money). Who is protecting hosting sites from cyber-attacks? I thought governments were worried about cyber-terrorism — I guess not when it is in their interests.

While we may have a variety of views on what the substance of the WikiLeaks stash of diplomatic cables (nice industrial era word), there are fundamental freedoms at work here. Yes governments need their secrets, but secrets and lies are one thing, believing we live in an open society (as Popper wrote about) brings with its risks. I had thought that democracies felt that it were better to risk the transparency of a democracy than the tyranny of a closed society. But of course, when you are subject to your own rules, that is when you discover how committed you are their protection. And therein lies the rub. Our democratic governments want openness and transparency for others, but when they are tested against these standards they are often found to be failing.

WikiLeaks is a phenomenon that will in time pass. But the evolution of open societies has been given a boost in the internet age, by enabling greater citizen empowerment, access to information, and what we are finding in many cases is the emperor has no clothes.

Enter the information-age book burners, whose intolerance is clear and their clandestine ability to subvert freedom of information has little restraint.

In the end, I worry more about how reactions against WikiLeaks will undermine the freedoms the internet brings than the embarrassing revelations of some civil servants sending messages home.

Want to know more?

Wikipedia has a good summary of book burnings over the years here.

Enhanced by Zemanta