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Wikileaks: info-porn for the masses

Wikileaks: info-porn for the masses

Perspectives from a federal agency CIO

The latest Wikileaks release — so-called ‘Cablegate’ — is a demonstration of how the road to Hell is not just paved, but lavishly signposted, Google-mapped, and well-lit at night with good intentions.

There is much made by the chattering classes of the need for ‘Open Government’ (or Gov 2.0) but the definitions are often personalised, and disparate and by no means can the on-going Wikileaks tedium be defined as a means of improving government for all, if indeed any.

I object to Wikileaks on several fronts:

  • What they are doing is not exposing corruption or wrongdoing of either individuals of departments. They are, instead, simply vomiting information over the public, the origin and purpose of which is not explained or justified. (Irony alert: Why doesn’t Wikileaks tell us how it gets the information? Are some things (their things) to be kept secret after all?).
  • The information is used as nothing more than a news sound bite or the subject of water-cooler chatter by 99.9 per cent of the population, so it’s in effect just gossip mongering. But for the 0.1 per cent of visitors whose minds are set on undermining any government for whatever reason, it is a valuable mine of open-source intelligence. This is a classic case: If the ‘squeaky wheel’ groups actually get what they say they want (and is that really everything in government being released via Wikileaks?), they will be the first to suffer for it; an irony usually applicable to racists/fascists/extremists the world over (thanks to Attila The Stockbroker for pointing that one out to me many years ago!).

    My fear is that this arrogant ‘we have the right to publish anything’ attitude could next extend to exposing banking (why not publish credit card application details to show how arbitrary the banks are in their assessment of credit risk); health (publish the hospital records of surgery patients to expose the effectiveness of surgeons, and the mistakes they make); employment (publish the records of staff who have sought counselling — is there a potential psychopath checking your bags in at the airport?); or education (publish the banking/health/police checks on all teachers, so the public can asses their suitability to teach your kid).

    No? Sounds a bit extreme, or ‘that could never happen here?’

    Wikileaks puts me in mind of the saying: “All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. I think the evil-doers of the world rejoice in Wikileaks being in the news as it increases public paranoia of governments, encourages staff working with confidential information to divulge it (and they should certainly know better — but that’s another topic), and provides a source of free information on the contemporary workings of government that otherwise would not be available to them.

    Now most people don’t care about this. They think it is all good for a laugh, or that politicians and governments probably deserve to suffer a bit of public embarrassment because they must be up to no good. It is a juvenile attitude of the worst ilk — akin to the morons who smash windows or graffiti walls just to build some kind of a reputation for themselves within their minority counter-culture, but for which the rest of us have to pay in terms of a degraded environment, increased surveillance and loss of privacy, and increased costs.

    To summarise: Wikileaks did not source this information effectively, it’s release serves no purpose, the information has no context, and to continue down this path threatens individuals within government, and general civil liberty, for no good reason.

  • Government (incorporating war/diplomacy/economics/justice, and many, many other areas covered by Wikileaks to date) is not a parlour game, nor an amateur sport. For as much as people like to belittle politicians — often justifiably — most of the actual business of government is undertaken by professional public servants and military staff who have years of experience in specialist fields, who contribute to the overall process of ‘government’. One thousand office workers in a field with a pile of bricks couldn’t deliver informed comment on the style of house those bricks will make, and they will never be able to build the house themselves. But put just one skilled builder in the same field, and you would get something everybody agrees looks, feels, and acts like a house should. In other words: Let governments govern — the Wikileaks alternative is mob rule!
  • The process Wikileaks is aggravating at the moment is only likely to cause individual harm to legitimate campaigners for open government either in the form of more distant and suspicious official interaction (or even total withdrawal from such processes), and increased suspicion of public servants at a time when we were just beginning to see official government support for online engagement and much improved information sharing. There are many good processes already in existence for dealing with inappropriate government actions and use of information including freedom of information acts, professional whistle-blowing practices and organisations, state and federal police agencies, and investigative reporting via the official press.

Overall, the purpose of Wikileaks at any level is unclear or inconsistent. I can’t imagine that the release of diplomatic cables is actually intended to make the world of international diplomacy Open Source — the idea is just too preposterous, and damages any claim to legitimacy that Wikileaks or its apologists claim to hold.

I’m personally not that surprised that Saudi Arabia tried to encourage the removal of Iran as a regional nuclear threat, but what does releasing that information actually achieve? States and individuals will always be vying for influence or power — that is why we have government and politics in the first place, to avoid having to fight wars every time to achieve this.

If anything, Cablegate shows that the diplomatic process works — the Saudi urge to ‘cut the head off the snake’ was channelled through professional analysts who gave the comments context, and provided analysis before passing it up to elected heads. This is the way the system should work — there would be nothing more anarchic than those comments immediately being made public and published in newspapers the world over, leaving politicians to try and form policy off the back of badly-informed public opinion across multiple jurisdictions.

Julian Assange may believe that altruism is in the eye of the beholder, but Wikileaks is proving to be nothing more that underground info-porn. Its aim is short-term titillation for the masses, disregarding of the long-term damage that might be done to those whose usually-hidden bits are being exposed, prodded, giggled over, or sneered at. Like most pornographers he, and many of this supporters, needs to grow up and take responsibility for the industry they are supporting.

Martin Dart is an Australian Federal Agency CIO. Follow him on Twitter at @mdart. This post appears on his blog, Martin Dart Online. The views and opinions are his own and do not reflect those of his employer or any other corporation or individual.

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