The Inevitability Of Wikileaks

from the if-you-strike-me-down... dept

Yet another excellent post over at the Economist highlighting the key mistake that those arguing against Wikileaks seem to be making: it's the idea that these kinds of things can be stopped. It's this idea that if Julian Assange is killed or if Wikileaks loses its domain or even if people are brought to trial over this, that somehow, somewhere, such data leaks won't happen any more. As the Economist notes:
Jailing Thomas Edison in 1890 would not have darkened the night.
This is exactly the point I was trying to make a couple months ago, in pointing out the impossibility of stopping truly distributed systems through conventional means (whether the distributed systems are doing good or bad things), and how little the people in power recognize this.
Yet the debate over WikiLeaks has proceeded as if the matter might conclude with the eradication of these kinds of data dumps--as if this is a temporary glitch in the system that can be fixed; as if this is a nuisance that can be made to go away with the application of sufficient government gusto. But I don't think the matter can end this way. Just as technology has made it easier for governments and corporations to snoop ever more invasively into the private lives of individuals, it has also made it easier for individuals, working alone or together, to root through and make off with the secret files of governments and corporations. WikiLeaks is simply an early manifestation of what I predict will be a more-or-less permanent feature of contemporary life, and a more-or-less permanent constraint on strategies of secret-keeping.
This is about dealing with reality, but so many of those in charge are working from the wrong playbook -- the one that doesn't realize that this is the new reality.
The basic question is not whether we think Julian Assange is a terrorist or a hero. The basic question certainly is not whether we think exposing the chatter of the diplomatic corps helps or hinders their efforts, and whether this is a good or bad thing. To continue to focus on these questions is to miss the forest for the texture of the bark on a single elm. If we take the inevitability of future large leaks for granted, then I think the debate must eventually centre on the things that will determine the supply of leakers and leaks. Some of us wish to encourage in individuals the sense of justice which would embolden them to challenge the institutions that control our fate by bringing their secrets to light. Some of us wish to encourage in individuals ever greater fealty and submission to corporations and the state in order to protect the privileges and prerogatives of the powerful, lest their erosion threaten what David Brooks calls "the fragile community"--our current, comfortable dispensation.
Again, this is why I have pointed out the similarities between the whole Wikileaks situation and the entertainment industry's response to file sharing. In the latter, it was never about whether or not file sharing was good or bad, moral or immoral, or even (really) whether or not it helps or hinders the creative lives of certain individuals or companies. What happened with file sharing was an inevitability, and the focus from the beginning should have been about figuring out "what do we do now, knowing this reality."

For years, I've said that one of the reasons I focused so much on the music industry was that I hoped other arenas that faced similar questions would learn from the mistakes of that one industry. And, yet, we see time and time again that this almost never happens. We've seen the movie industry, the software industry, the video game industry, the publishing industry and more follow the same path making the same mistakes. And now we're seeing the US government do it too -- and this is a case where the stakes may be much, much bigger.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 11:16am

    Jailing Thomas Edison in 1890 would not have darkened the night.

    Of course not, Thomas Edison was a talented middle manager who had great zeal for taking the credit for and patenting the inventions of talented people who invented things while on his payroll. Some other person--not Thomas Edison--invented the light bulb. Tom just got the credit.

    Also, he was dick. If you ever met him you'd want to punch him in the face. Personally, I cannot stand the guy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Designerfx (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 11:19am

    revolution

    I knew were close to things that could incite a revolution, but I didn't think I predicted it'd be via bringing on censorship.

    oh well. my guess still remains that in the next 8 years we're going to see a full on revolt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Joshy, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 11:32am

    Wikileaks reminds me of the famous Apple commercial Titled "1984" were the lady runs in and throws the sledge hammer at the screen waking up the staid sullen black and white depicted people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    AnShLv (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 11:33am

    World War 3?

    It is funny to think some global process might be stopped once they take place. Even considering Wikileaks, there's no way to stop the intended amount of information from publishing. Nice to read people's thoughts about censorship in the USA, but in Ukraine we have even more of that. In fact we all know, the democracy is inexistant, it's just a virtual reality for people in particular countries, while everything is governed by money anyway. The same way any our oligarch would be always more precious in any democratic country, than any of you, of us, any talented and wise person...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 11:33am

    If most of the ones Ive seen so far were State Dept tweets, nobody would have noticed or cared. 250,00 docs and we are only getting 1 or 2 a day that are mildly inflammatory, this is not the revolution.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    jsl4980 (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 11:48am

    It's the same as spam

    Wikileaks is the same as spam e-mails. Every year some law enforcement agency says they've arrested a "spam king" who sent 30% of the world's spam. Within a week or two everyone's inboxes are full of spam again. Taking down one person just keeps money funneling into law enforcement and PR.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 11:57am

    Recent History ....

    We have seen every attempt by RIAA, MPAA, etc to stop or even slow down infringement fail miserably. We all know that their businesses as kings of distribution are doomed.

    WikiLeaks is alot like that in that once something like wikileaks exists. People expect it to continue to.
    There will be a vacuun if wikileaks is shut down, it will be filled because there is a want and a need for it. Off the top of my head I can think of about 10 sites like wikileaks that can very easily become its replacement. There are also the public and private mirrors of wikileaks. Any of which can be become the next "wikileaks".

    The Governments response to WikiLeaks, and the recording industrt going after infringement is alot like a man with a machine gun going after a swarm of bees. It doesnt work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:11pm

    Re: revolution

    More than likely you will see a spliting and decentralization of the internet. You are already seeing P2P DNS being spoken about. Next you will see people working on and optimizing freenet or something similar. Massive distributed encrypted VPN networks will also start showing up. All in all its the beginning of an internet cold war, which the governments of the world will throw tons of money at only to be two steps behind the entire way.

    May we live in interesting times.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:11pm

    This about sums it up

    Orwell vs Huxley

    Funny how both seem to be pretty accurate in this day and age.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:21pm

    Re:

    "1984 will not be like 1984"

    But 2012 may.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Recent History ....

    oops ... missed putting the quote in ...

    "This is exactly the point I was trying to make a couple months ago, in pointing out the impossibility of stopping truly distributed systems through conventional means (whether the distributed systems are doing good or bad things), and how little the people in power recognize this."

    The Governments response to WikiLeaks, and the recording industry going after infringement is alot like a man with a machine gun going after a swarm of bees. It doesnt work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:35pm

    Re: This about sums it up

    That is classic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    New Mexico Mark, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:44pm

    Barn doors

    Events like this remind me of the early history of PGP and government efforts to control encryption methods in the information age.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Good_Privacy

    (From the Wikipedia article referenced above...)
    "Zimmermann challenged these regulations in a curious way. He published the entire source code of PGP in a hardback book,[12] via MIT Press, which was distributed and sold widely. Anybody wishing to build their own copy of PGP could buy the $60 book, cut off the covers, separate the pages, and scan them using an OCR program, creating a set of source code text files. One could then build the application using the freely available GNU Compiler Collection. PGP would thus be available anywhere in the world."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    CommonSense (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:54pm

    Re: Jailing Thomas Edison in 1890 would not have darkened the night.

    Right, because that was exactly the point of the sentence....

    Semantics aside, the point stands. If it hadn't been that specific employee, or whatever, of Edison's that invented the light bulb, it would have been another one. Bottom line, the light bulb gets invented regardless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 12:54pm

    That's right you dirty genie, get back in that bottle!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    TDR, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 1:20pm

    "Do you know what that sound is, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. That is the sound of your death."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    James Carmichael (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 1:21pm

    Silencing the truth is the only means of defense that cowards and liars have at their disposition to stay alive.

    You can't have disinformation with silencing the truth.
    You can't have a fear campaign without disinformation.
    You can't have the GoP without a fear campaign.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 1:36pm

    Welcome to the distributed world!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 2:20pm

    Leaks....and more leaks

    What is really going to be interesting is the future leaks concerning the US government's response to the current leaks.

    That should make for some good reading.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    Eugene (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 2:50pm

    Re: Jailing Thomas Edison in 1890 would not have darkened the night.

    Yeah, that guy is a real bummer at parties. But I always have to invite him because he's a friend of a friend and it would be rude not to. He's always the first to get drunk too, that asshole. Never pays for the beer either.



    Oh and he constantly steals my inventions and patents them as his own.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Eugene (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 2:51pm

    Re:

    But it's valuable and interesting nonetheless.
    Sometimes important things aren't fun and exciting. Sometimes they're boring and involve reading about lots of dull dinner parties.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    Eugene (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 3:14pm

    Re: Leaks....and more leaks

    That's pretty much the spiral that leaks like this are supposed to create.

    When people talk about inevitability of knowledge; freeing information, etc, it means taking the long view. It's easy to be short sighted and imagine squash this or that specific leak with a strong - maybe even competent - crackdown. But once you take a step back and see where everything is heading, you realize that all that effort - regardless even whether it's successful or not - is for nothing. To ignore it is to let it happen, and to attack it is to make it happen faster. The endgame here is a world - not where secrets don't exist - but where secrets don't last very long.

    And that's probably something that a lot of the people who are angry about this don't get. Openness isn't about getting the truth immediately, as it happens. Openness is about getting the truth [i]at all[/i], and being secure in the knowledge that it will happen without a fight. We don't need to know what every soldier in every part of Afghanistan is doing at this very moment; we don't need to know what espionage we're performing on other countries...we be [i]deserve[/i] to know all those things eventually, and in a timely manner.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 3:52pm

    Re: Re: Leaks....and more leaks

    Agreed, gone are the days of 50 or 100 years of secrecy, people may be able to keep it quiet for some years but that is it, governments everywhere will need to deal with the new reality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    penstock (profile), Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 5:09pm

    The Wikileaks copycat replacements are already lining up...

    What is amazing to think about is "why isn't there more than one Wikileak-type website already?" The moment Wikileaks goes down there will be an outbreak of competition to replace them - there are many sites just waiting in the wings to take center-stage once a vacuum has been created. People want this information - all sorts of it - and the provider will achieve instant status as a "heroic legend" - even if as an outlaw that must hide behind anonymity. Information is unstoppable, and as long as there are whistle blowers out there - there will be a need to publish these documents online.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Jamey, Dec 3rd, 2010 @ 8:07pm

    Prophecy

    Want to read a real prophet's works? Try David Brin's sci-fi novel _Earth_, which contains ideas he later developed more fully in the non-fiction work _The Transparent Society_. It's amazing how well he painted, in 1990, things we're seeing *NOW*.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This