// December 15th, 2010 // 7 Comments » // Technology
I am not a conspiracy theorist. This is not a conspiracy. In this article I would just like to talk about facts. This is not all the facts, because I don’t think anyone has all of the facts. Use your own judgement.
What is Wikileaks?
WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices. – Wikileaks website
For weeks now, there has been more and more press about Wikileaks and “Cablegate” especially the fact that they have been blacklisted by several major companies. Since Wikileaks announced that it was planning to release over two hundred and 50 thousand (>250,000) documents they have experienced the most difficult circumstances the organisation has ever faced. They have been barred or suspended by Amazon, Paypal, Visa, Mastercard, EveryDNS.net and few companies have been willing to do business with them since.
I am not going to get into the politics of it, who is attacking who, or any conspiracy of the sort. I really could write many pages about the Wikileaks case. The point of this article is to show that the battle between Wikileaks, Julian Assange and the US Government is way bigger than releasing secret documents. Let’s go back to 1971, when The New York Times won a Supreme Court case against The U.S. Government allowing it to print classified information:
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), was a United States Supreme Court per curiam decision. The ruling made it possible for the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers to publish the then-classified Pentagon Papers without risk of government censure.
President Richard Nixon had claimed executive authority to force the Times to suspend publication of classified information in its possession. The question before the court was whether the constitutional freedom of the press, guaranteed by the First Amendment, was subordinate to a claimed need of the executive branch of government to maintain the secrecy of information. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did protect the right of the New York Times’ to print the materials.
Wikileaks is not based in the U.S. nor does it cater to the U.S. only. My question is, how can a single government take down a website catering to the World?
The internet was designed to be indestructible. The internet however, has exceeded what it was designed for. Since then issues have come up where Governments like China and Australia censor the internet that their citizens can access. To me this goes against civil liberty since the internet is not owned or operated by any one person, government or organisation. However if an elected government decides to censor the internet for their nation for the better well being of it’s citizens, then they have the right to do so (especially for content like child pornography).
What is wrong with the Wikileaks case is that their major service providers (hosting and payment gateway for donations) have ceased working with them. The biggest blow was when everydns.net also ceased providing Domain Name Service which basically erased Wikileaks from the internet. Doing this to any website will cripple it, fortunately Wikileaks is resilient.
When I speak to people about Wikileaks, they have mixed reactions, some say it’s a security risk, others say it just really doesn’t matter. However the fact is, what if Facebook was shut down in the same manner? Not accepting payments, not being found in search engines, their hosts denying traffic? Facebook is now used by 500 Million people and is a huge communication tool. In the same breath I live on the island of Jamaica, could a foreign government deem our internet use illegal and cut our internet connection? What if a major company can lobby a government to block a rival company’s website or service to an entire nation?
We have all become so used to and take for granted the many services provided by the internet. I would go as far as to say that information is the new valuable resource, bigger than any other industry. The scary ting is that it is not renewable, when people don’t get access to information it cannot be used, new things cannot be developed from it, policies cannot be changed because of it. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king, however the internet allows us all to read and type braille.
What will happen
In the coming years, Internet Governance will become a major issue. Currently organisations like Diplo train people and organise workshops to create policies and awareness for
a free and open internet. Unfortunately I fear that cases like Wikileaks may re-occur before the necessary international laws are in place to protect online content.
Back in 1999 the first real online media challenge arrived in the form of Napster. Napster was the first popular peer to peer music sharing application and it upset the big record labels, causing it to be the target of many lawsuits which led to its eventual demise. Since then it has led to more sophisticated peer to peer networks, which have resulted in new technology like Bittorrent being created. Bittorrent is virtually impossible to control or limit due to its architecture, many have tried with limited success. In the same way, the censorship of online content will only result in new ways to distribute it. There have been many sites taken down before, even seized.
Already Wikileaks has created opportunity for others, Openleaks.org has been created to share similar content and a new payment service flattr, has since become popular for still supporting the site. This is the type of growth to be expected in the coming years as new opportunites present themselves. The internet is a snowball that seems to have no end.
I hope to continue to enjoy a free and open internet, where I can share content without censorship. -Dmitri