According to Mark Zuckerberg’s law information on the Internet will double every 18 to 24 months. The founder of the social media giant Facebook probably understated the growth of information, especially after the latest escapades of Wikileaks with the publishing of 251,287 United States diplomatic cables. The impact of these leaked documents have reverberated throughout the world and caused a freedom of speech conundrum.
WikiLeaks is an international non-profit media organization that publishes submissions of otherwise unavailable documents from anonymous news sources and leaks. Its website, launched in 2006, is run by The Sunshine Press. Within a year of its launch, the site claimed a database that had grown to more than 1.2 million documents.
According to Wikipedia, “WikiLeaks has described itself as having been founded by Chinese dissidents, as well as journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.” It has been a long time since there has been such a polarization of opinion over their motives, the quality of their information, the motives of their sources and about freedom of speech.
Although WikiLeaks consists of mostly unclassified documents there have been allegations that many people could die as a result of the leaks, primarily due to revenge attacks from Muslim extremists. Some of the names mentioned in the documents are purported to be the names of informants and spies.
WikiLeaks is run by Julian Paul Assange, an Australian citizen. He calls himself the editor-in-chief and makes all the final decisions about what is published or not. Apparently he decides if the documents are safe to publish and if any person or people will be in danger due to the publication of the documents. The US State department insists that governments should be able to have “private” conversations and that the leaking of the diplomatic cables is a violation of that right. Assange however claims that these documents expose the gross human rights violations committed by the US government in their fight against terror.
The question is whether the publishing of these documents are in the public interest or not. In my opinion the attempts by the US, British and Australian governments to shut WikiLeaks down and arrest Assange is the beginning of a very disturbing trend. The government doesn’t like what is being said and their response is to shut you down. Clearly that is a violation of freedom of speech. US supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor has said the court is likely to have to rule on the issue of balancing national security and freedom of speech due to WikiLeaks posting a cache of US military records about the Afghan war. Her comments came in response to a question about security and free speech by a student at Denver university. The judge said she could not answer because “that question is very likely to come before me”. She said the “incident, and others, are going to provoke legislation that’s already being discussed in Congress, and so some of it is going to come up before [the supreme court]”.
There is no question that WikiLeaks and in particular the leaking of this large cache of documents, is going to radically change journalism. The debate about freedom of speech is going to continue. Right or wrong, the website generated such an enormous amount of traffic that it’s just a matter of time before another 1,000 “WikiLeaks” pop up. The advertising revenue is just too attractive. Information and especially secret information is highly desirable and generates enormous interest and traffic. The Internet has once again proven that it cannot be controlled. For the time being WikiLeaks.org has been shut down but I am sure it’s going to pop up somewhere and I am sure this kind of information is going to continue to be published and distributed online and many people are going to make a lot of money from it.
It’s less about “freedom of speech” and more about “freedom of information”.