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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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jan 2012 @ 6:04am

    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.

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