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.

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Companies: wikileaks

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Comments on “The Inevitability Of Wikileaks”

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:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

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.

CommonSense (profile) says:

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.

Eugene (profile) says:

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.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

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.

AnShLv (profile) says:

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…

Hephaestus (profile) says:

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.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

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.

New Mexico Mark says:

Barn doors

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

(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.”

Eugene (profile) says:

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.

penstock (profile) says:

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.

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