Using Wikileaks To Figure Out What The Government 'Redacts'

from the compare-and-contrast dept

We’ve talked in the past about the ridiculousness of the US government pretending that the State Department cables that were leaked via Wikileaks are still confidential. The reasoning, obviously, is that they’re afraid that declaring anything that’s become public is no longer confidential is that it creates incentives to leak more documents. But the actual situation is simply absurd. Documents that everyone can see easily and publicly… live in this world, a world where anyone in government has to pretend that they’re still secret and confidential. There have even been cases where officials have gotten into trouble for using information from a “public” document, because they’re supposed to create this fiction that it’s not.

Still, there is one way in which this has actually turned out to be enlightening. A few months ago, the ACLU filed some Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the State Department on some issues, getting some of the very same documents that were leaked via Wikileaks. Except… the kind that came with the FOIA had redactions. The Wikileaks documents, for the most part, do not. That created an interesting opportunity for Ben Wizner at the ACLU. He could now compare and contrast the two version of the document, to see just what the government is redacting, and figure out if they’re redacting it for legitimate reasons… or just to do things like avoid embarrassment.

The ACLU then set up a special page allowing people to compare multiple versions of documents with just a simple mouseover. This came out a few months ago, but I didn’t get a chance to write it up until now. It’s pretty enlightening to see just what makes the censor’s cut, and (not surprisingly) raises significant questions about the government’s temptation to simply excise stuff they don’t like, rather than information that there are valid reasons to keep hidden.

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Companies: aclu, wikileaks

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Comments on “Using Wikileaks To Figure Out What The Government 'Redacts'”

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Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Agree with you that this is not surprising, enough already of everybody US hating.

I am willing to bet anything that the US is not the worst offender in the world. I would bet also that it is not even in the top 10. The US government is doing a lot things that we all agree are bad but because of the level of free (not as free as it use to be) speech we have in this country we are more aware of it. We know about it. In a lot of countries you don’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

to Skeptical Cynic
you are right. there are countries worse than the US, such as China, Iran. those countries dont try to pretend they are open democracies, promoting freedom and human rights etc. the US does the promoting but in reality is getting as bad as they are. on top of that, China for example, mainly keeps itself to itself. the US is forcing itself everywhere

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yep, true. As the largest economy in the world and the most powerful country everything we do is going to be fraught with mistakes and missteps. But the US has done more than any other country in the world to promote those ideas. We send billions of hard-earned tax dollars to other countries to help them in a lot of different ways. Including promoting those ideas.

As for China mainly keeping to itself. I don’t think those in Taiwan or Tibet agree with you.

Let's... says:

Re: Re:

Your reasoning “skeptical cynic” is akin to the wife who is beating declaring to her friends, “Sure he beats me…it’s not like it happens all the time. Only when I go too far. I deserve it. Besides, it’s not like he beats me to a bloody pulp every week like Mrs. Jones husband does…and nobody seems to even know about her beatings.” The right to know. A conscience free from suppression by outside sources. These are the SUPREME LAW of this land Mr. Cynic. Stop apologizing for the abusive husband.

Let's... says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Because he beats me for my own good. He knows what’s best for me.”

Free conscience is only possible if given the information to make an informed decision. If such information is withheld and decisions are made based on false or incomplete information then the conscience was not free to make the decision. It was suppressed. And, according to George Washington, that is the anti-thesis of freedom (i.e., the right of every man to a free conscience, free from suppression). A government that no longer upholds the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a treasonous government. And who, may I ask, is it the responsibility of to bring such a government back under the control of the people? China, Iran, and other abusers do not have as their Supreme Law the right to a free conscience. So please stop degrading the freedom of your fellow Americans by comparing us to the rest of the world.

CodeZero says:

Re: Re: Re:

“America is not the worst offender in the world.”

Dont make me laugh. American and it’s insidious culture is the most dangerous threat to humanity that has ever existed on planet earth.

How many other countries are conducting two illegal wars, have stockpiles of nuclear weapons larger than any other, spend most of their budget (which is four or five times more than anyone else, while being trillions of dollars in debt) on more weapons. Meanwhile their own people are being turfed from houses. The USA now tries to control the internet for the sake of a few multinational corporation, and have a tame press that plays nicely with all this.

And that is just scratching the surface. Whoever you are you don’t know the first thing about reality.

The most offensive thing is the total hypocrisy and denial.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It is often amazing how far they are willing to go to protect their image, even when people know the truth.
The world doesn’t hate us because we are champions of Democracy, they hate us because we bully those who won’t bend to our demands.
Our government seems to behave like a wife beater, in public we are all smiles and everything is fine. Behind closed doors we sometimes have to smack them around for being lippy.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They are envious.

There are plenty of countries with similar standard of living and lower poverty, and their governments are not hated like the US government is. It’s not envy. And from what I’ve heard and read, it’s the US government that gets most of the ire from other parts of the world, not the people of the US (with some exceptions of course).

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

So they can either lead which will piss off some people or they can set aside and piss off Americans.

Again, IMO it is not simply the fact that we’re a leader that angers most of the people. Some few will just be resentful of whoever’s on top, but I think mostly it’s stuff like Gitmo, Abhu Graib, helping crash the world economy, pushing ACTA and TPP, and so on. They don’t hate us because we’re rich, they hate us because we’re assholes.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“But I think the larger problem stems from the fact that the US is the largest economy in the world and is directly responsible for the success of 2nd Japan and 3rd China. They are envious.”

I couldn’t disagree more. I think envy has close to nothing to do with it. I think that the US forcing its will on the rest of the world both through economic and military power is what does it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“US is the largest economy in the world”

Not for long. China is growing at 9% per year, the US is 2% per year, maybe. The Chinese government has a motive to underestimate their growth. The US government is definitely lying to overestimate US growth. China has more middle-class consumers than the whole population of the US. The US is about to become number 2, then 3, then …

Once that happens, you will see what happens to US influence and status in the world. It will not be pretty.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

As citizens of the country, it is our responsibility to to act to improve it. It is required by fundamental citizenship that we call our nation out of the bad things it does and work to improve them.

To coopt your analogy, it’s more like waking up to the fact that our brother is an abusive alcoholic and trying to get him to the AA meeting in the first place.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is only painful because the US is in the AA meeting and still refuses to admit its a drunk.

If we upheld the same standards we demand of others we would be leading by example, but to publicly say A while doing B C D (the same things we called everyone else out for) makes us hypocrites. One can not claim the moral high ground unless one is actually moral, not just moral when other people might see.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

I’m not at all surprised that they would try to cover up anything that might embarrassed them. Although I’m surprised they were not more creative with the redaction. They totally could have had some fun with the UFO hunters.

Of particular concern is the issue of overflights by _____________. Italian prosecutors allege that ______________traversed Swiss airspace on the day __________ was abducted. ____________________________ Washington has yet to respond.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a meeting facilitated by th U.K department of culture between copyright holders and Google, Bing and Yahoo. It’s being held behind closed doors of course but an FOI request has revealed some of the information. Who knows what it didn’t reveal and why aren’t these meetings being held in public. Why the backdoor dealing again? Does the public not matter. and, for all we know, the FOI results could be rigged. Hollywood really never did learn anything.

We really ought to protest laws and government facilitated policies that are held behind closed doors a whole lot more. This is unacceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“really ought to protest”

The only effective protest that the US people has available is to vote the bums out. No amount of complaint to the existing bad guys, who are doing all this stuff, will work. They have been ignoring complaints for decades. Why should they stop?

Get organized. Do your duty, US voters.

Anonymous Coward says:

Documents created within the government receive classifications in accordance with procedures developed in accordance with Presidential Executive Orders. Those Orders also specify procedures by which documents are either downgraded or declassified.

Whether or not you and others may find this silly in light of their unauthorized release, the Executive Orders remain in full force and effect, and their procedures must be followed until such time as the process for downgrading/declassification has taken place.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Whether or not you and others may find this silly in light of their unauthorized release, the Executive Orders remain in full force and effect, and their procedures must be followed until such time as the process for downgrading/declassification has taken place.

In other words, “that’s how it is because that’s how it is”. I think we already knew that.

DogBreath says:

It all comes back to state secrets...

and the continual abuse of power by those who control them.

Supreme Court recognition in United States v. Reynolds

The privilege was first officially recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1953 decision United States v. Reynolds (345 U.S. 1). A military airplane, a B-29 Superfortress bomber, crashed. The widows of three civilian crew members sought accident reports on the crash but were told that to release such details would threaten national security by revealing the bomber’s top-secret mission.[1][2][3][4][5][6][9][10] The court held that only the government can claim or waive the privilege, and it ?is not to be lightly invoked?, and last there ?must be a formal claim of privilege, lodged by the head of the department which has control over the matter, after actual personal consideration by that officer.?[1] The court stressed that the decision to withhold evidence is to be made by the presiding judge and not the executive.[1]

In 2000, the accident reports were declassified and released, and it was found that the assertion that they contained secret information was fraudulent. The reports did, however, contain information about the poor condition of the aircraft itself, which would have been very compromising to the Air Force’s case. Many commentators have alleged government misuse of secrecy in this landmark case.[11]

Despite this ruling, a case might still be subject to judicial review since the privilege was intended to prevent certain, but not all, information to be precluded.[1]

Noone@Nowhere says:


What, exactly, does voting do? Emma Goldman said, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” While I don’t agree with that statement on a community level (I do vote), I need only point of the Obummer’s grassroots campaign followed by the corporate buyout that rendered his pre-president ideals null to verify that, in fact, the politicians you “trust” enough to put in office will vote in a stupid majority to indefinitely detain ANYONE. US or not, that is treasonous, and it was done by your electorate. Stop acting like voting = democracy. You have to assert your ENTIRE presence into your government to hold them accountable, and not only does is that incapable of starting at a stupid ballot box, the ballot box is rendered a useless trinket inside a broken system that paints your ballot with loads and loads and loads of capital.

Further proof? He with the most campaign contributions wins 94% of the time. This American market has turned every thing into TV drama, and the only reason anyone has time to pay attention (while they themselves work endlessly for the goal of accumulation and/or withdraw silently to avoid putting a bullet in their head) is because the clowns that manage to stumble over their corrupt feet in search of accumulation make us all feel a little better about our own role (or lack thereof) at the stupid ballot box.

Further proof? Look at all those tea party candidates that make up the Congress with a lower approval rating than communism.

You simply cannot vote when the ideology you support is influenced by money, and when it takes all that money to “get the votes,” the only people that make it there are the ones cut throat enough to sell you the hell out. Anyone incapable of seeing that doesn’t deserve to vote in the first place, and fixing that problem by voting is… well, let’s just say this: “And I’m the idealist?”

Robert says:

The big problem here is whether or not the redactions would have a material impact upon the next election. If those redactions would impact elections, the the sitting administration is conspiring to obstruct democracy.
Also of those redaction hide crimes then those that do the redacting are accessories after the fact in those crimes.
Obviously all redaction should in fact need to pass a judicial board to ensure nothing is redacted that the public should have access to.

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