Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks

It looks like those folks at WikiLeaks are at it again, uploading government files onto the internet for all to see. Once again there is a great uproar of heavy rhetoric from public figures and the public alike. What is different this time is that the documents are embarrassing to many nations, not just the US, and the outcry over their exposure has been even more bloodthirsty.

Pubic figures have been calling for the WikiLeaks editor, Julian Assange, to be brought up on treason charges, never mind that he isn't a US citizen. Others are advocating just killing Assange outright, notably Sarah Palin and some conservative writers like John Hawkins. Even the American press is making a bigger deal out of the fact that the leak happened than they are about what the leak contained.

I really think this outrage is misguided at best and more likely dangerous. America, you have your priorities screwed up. Whistle blowers whose consciences drive them to reveal secrets to us through the press can often be the only means we have find out what is going on in companies and our government. This has historically been seen as so valuable to the public interest that we have laws in place to protect sources and the press. WikiLeaks is undertaking the role of the press and being shamelessly lambasted by the traditional press for it.

Yes, a government has a need for secrets, but in order for a democracy to function properly its citizens need to know what their government is doing in their name. When a government employee is so bothered by what is going on that he/she feels compelled to leak the truth to the rest of us, thinking we'd be just as disturbed, then it is worth looking into the information leaked. There is a very real chance that the leak is the only way we'd ever find out about these things. If the information is as upsetting to us as it was to the whistle blower, then it is worth considering if our government is deserving of our trust.

No, I don't need to know everything that my government does. I don't even think I ought to know some things, because secrets can indeed save lives. But when leaks happen, we tend to find out that our government wasn't just keeping secrets from our enemies, but they were keeping secrets from us explicitly. Someone, most likely some group of people, in our government decided that if we knew the truth, we would be outraged and angry with their behavior, so they kept it a secret. It is in knowing those kinds of things that we have any hope at all of being able to have a ethical government by electing sound leadership to oversee what is done in our names.

When people call for the death of the WikiLeaks founder, what they are signaling is that they don't want to know what their government does. They don't want anyone else to know either. That we ought to be content in our ignorance and that the unquestioned authority of that government will be enforced with murder if necessary. To them I say, I am not a subject of my nation. I am a citizen and together with my fellow citizens we are the authority to be informed, obeyed, and respected.

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