What happens when Wikileaks speaks…

17 Aug

The news about Wikileaks publishing thousands of leaked army documents hit when I was overseas.  While it certainly seemed significant to me, I just didn’t have a lot of time to read more about it. Now that I’ve been back for a couple of weeks, I’ve taken the time to research the situation a little more.

This is a real life journalism ethical situation, unfolding on a massive scale. I haven’t taken any type of class yet that can help me decide what I think about this. But I have my own moral compass and common sense, which I guess count for something.

Do I think the American people, and the world for that matter, have a right to know what’s really been going on in Afghanistan? Absolutely. Do I think the government will ever tell us/them? Absolutely not. So, in a way, it seems like Julian Assange’s actions were necessary. But that doesn’t mean I completely approve of what he’s done.

Powerful? Check. Ethical? Maybe not so much...

I guess the biggest question on my mind is, Will the publishing of these documents result in unnecessary death and violence? Answer: The jury’s still out.  The Pentagon and the White House, of course, are screaming bloody murder, claiming that this leak will compromise their reputation, operations and countless lives. But how much of that is true and how much of that is embarrassment at being caught with their pants down? Part of me thinks that the latter plays more of a role than the government will ever admit.

It’s hard to get a straight answer. All of the sources in the articles that I’ve read are really biased one way or another. Some say that the harm should be quite minimal. And Wikileaks did take efforts to remove especially sensitive information from the documents it published. But another, heavily encrypted file awaits release, and it’s said to contain more significantly more damaging documents.

That brings me to another question and, in truth, the bigger implication of all this. Whether or not this leak results in more Afghani and soldier deaths — which I honestly hope and pray it doesn’t — the potential this represents is what scares, and excites, me the most. Articles say that the encrypted file likely can only be cracked if Assange releases the code. I think, but don’t quote me on this, he has actually threatened to do so if the government attempts to block his website.

That really freaks me out. Should one person, one journalist have so much power and influence? Assange doesn’t seem like an especially dangerous or malicious person to me, but if he can do something like this, someone more menacing and with far worse intentions could likely do the same. How do you stop that? Can we just shut down the Internet? If the government starts censoring like this, where will it all stop?

On the other hand, Wikileaks represents a force for good as well. It can help journalists whose voices are stifled in their native countries get some word out about what is really going on there. And I’m all about the right for freedom of expression.

So what’s my vote? I think I’m going to abstain on this one for now and see what else happens. But, truth be told, my stomach is feeling a little unsettled by the whole mess.

UPDATE: Apparently the verdict is in and the government has decided it overreacted. But it’s still scared about a coming leak.

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