Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Problem Behind Julian Assange

Julian Assange is an interesting person and Wikileaks is an interesting organization.  I haven't read too much about the controversy, but what I have read covers a wide spectrum of beliefs.  To some, Assange is a hero.  To others he is the greatest threat to national and world security there is.  I don't know what Assange's motives are nor do I know all of what Wikileaks has published.  It isn't my point.

There is something else going on, and it is going on behind him.  I've read some quite typical, predictable knee-jerk reactions from the usual conservative types that he's a spy and a traitor and whatever else and should be locked up or worse.  But the problem is that Assange isn't the one who witnessed the things that have been published.  You can say what you want about passing on various types of information, and I think each piece of information and how it was handled needs to be judged on its individual merits.  The greater problem is that somebody else is leaking these items to Wikileaks.

There's a difference between a whistle-blower and a snitch.  A whistle-blower reveals systematized injustices and the coverups that accompany them.  A snitch reveals personal issues that are usually nobody else's business outside of the people involved.  Our culture generally sees whistle-blowers as heroes and snitches as slime.  But whether whistle-blowers or snitches, government officials and military leaders have a bigger problem than Julian Assange.  They are employing people that can't keep a secret.  They are placing trust in untrustworthy people.  They need to take better care what they say and what they do.  I'm not sure whether this reflects worse on the story-tellers or on the people who are trusting them.

I find it ironic - and maybe hypocritical as well - that governments and militaries that spy on and collect massive amounts of information about citizens cry foul when citizens and soldiers do the same in the opposite direction.  Many of these people are getting a taste of their own medicine and they don't like it.  That there are the Julian Assanges of the world might mean that enough technology can be used by common people to keep the powerful in check.  This seems like a growing phenomenon.  Even though there might be some bad individual results here and there, I think overall that all this may be a good thing.

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