Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks: the empowered find out what it's like when you're being watched

Cartoon by Brendan Weekers,
On 21 January 2009, US president Obama signed a directive to his department heads saying: "Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known." Not yet two years later he criticises WikiLeaks for publishing US diplomatic cables and his press officer calls it "a criminal act".

WikiLeaks shook the US diplomatic world. Over 250,000 cables from more than 250 US embassies around the world are now in the process of being published. And they reveal some pretty embarrassing stuff about US diplomats and government officials. Of course there is much legal sable rattling and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has an international arrest warrant made out in his name for the alleged rape of two women in Sweden. An allegation he denies, admitting having had unprotected sex with two women but in both cases of the consented variety.

Be that as it may: there is a lot of information out on the street that many high ranking officials would have preferred to keep behind closed doors. Again! These last few years there are many cases of high ranking officials getting a bit of an airing. The UK paper The Daily Telegraph exposed some pretty creative use of the rules for claiming expenses by members of the UK parliament in 2009. It led to resignations, disciplinary actions, a few criminal charges and reform proposals for the way UK parliament works. In short: it exposed a faulty system, shook things up a bit and supposedly it changed the way things work.

Leaks like this do force governments that purport to stand for freedom and democracy to be rather careful in actually acting the way they profess to act. The modern information highway makes back room shenanigans a lot harder to keep in the back room. Whether you agree with WikiLeaks facilitating the publishing of sensitive information or not, the fact remains: diplomats and those in power need to realise that we humble citizens are watching them just as much as they are watching us. I can not deny that there is a certain satisfaction in that. It seems that the era of governing bodies that rely on the ignorance of the populace and the confidentiality of its elite is gone. In that respect Obama had a point, because standing on the side of those that withhold information means standing on the side of those that are inevitably found out. Pity he did not remember his own directive in the WikiLeaks case.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article. We are watching!