Secrecy, Wikileaks And The Death Of The Free Internet

01. January 2015 Free Internet 0

The Wikileaks controversy has stirred up old debates about openness, government, corporate secrets and society’s right to information about its institutions. Few writers have acknowledged that the current, free Internet is the foundation, the sina qua non, of the debate.

Remarkably, the Internet has survived for 40 years because it is sustainable. It is open. It is honest (at least at the network level). And costs are shared, more or less, equally.

Without this sustainable foundation, Wikileaks and the surrounding debate would not exist. Ironically, it may be the Wikileaks controversy that destroys the open, free Internet.

Already, many law makers in Washington D.C. and Ottawa are calling for stricter network controls on the Internet in order to maintain national “security” secrets, to prevent the formation of other web sites like Wikileaks and so that “terrorists” don’t get us.

In countries like Russia and China, web sites are routinely blocked from the Internet and communicating to the rest of the world. Now, England is urging ISP’s to ban any web site that may be “pornographic” in the name of keeping children safe.

daniel_EllsbergAs Americans have known for 200 years, free speech is messy and sometimes dirty and even offensive. But that is the ironic principle behind free speech: once you start restricting some speech because it is offensive, eventually all of it gets censored, free thought is aborted and people cease to be free. Our free-flow of information on the Internet didn’t happen by accident or without the effort of thousands of early pioneers who shared a vision of open, free communications between free peoples.

That vision of free speech online is under threat by the Wikileaks scandal. At its heart, the Wikileaks scandal looks like a replay of the Pentagon papers released by journalist Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 that shamed the U.S. government and showed that the Johnson administration deliberately and repeatedly lied to Congress about the war in Vietnam. The response then was the same as today: shut down the source of the information leakage (rather than admit fault and take responsibility). The U.S. government sued the New York Times and won an injunction preventing the paper from publishing for 15 days in 1971.

This was the first successful attempt by the federal government to restrain the publication of a major newspaper since the Civil war. Luckily, the Supreme Court overturned this case and the Times resumed publishing the Pentagon papers.

This time around, however, the Supreme Court may not hold jurisdiction over Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, because he is not an American and his web site is hosted in Europe.

If free people don’t stand up and defend the right of whistle blowers to spread facts about the unlawful and dishonest actions of government and corporations, then we don’t have much to stand on. The continued existence of a free Internet and free people depends upon it.

Source: The Atlantic

It is possible for tiny actions to occasionally have huge consequences on the Internet – like the creation of a Facebook or a Wikileaks by tiny teams – because many thousands of people over decades set up the underlying structure of that seeming magic trick.

It seems to cost nothing to send an email, so we spend billions of dollars on spam. The existing Internet design is centered on creating the illusion of no-cost effort. But there is no such thing. It’s an illusion born of the idylls of youth, and leads to a distorted perception of the nature of responsibility. When there seems to be no cost, the idea of moderation doesn’t seem sensible.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Tomorrow morning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will mark the winter solstice by taking an unprecedented step to expand government’s reach into the Internet by attempting to regulate its inner workings. In doing so, the agency will circumvent Congress and disregard a recent court ruling.


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