On Wikileaks: Gov 2.0, The Press and Free Society

There are people who do Gov 2.0 work who do not believe in calling “Government 2.0″ a movement. In the non-movement sense, Gov 2.0 is practically defined as anything that someone wants to call “Gov 2.0″ – often an emerging technology looking to capitalize on the movement.

There’s something to capitalize on because Government 2.0 is a movement, albeit a very loose one with many banners. The broad movement, though, boils down to a core commitment to democracy and a more collaborative and transparent government. There are a also a number of tools associated with the Gov 2.0 movement, from wikis to crowdsourcing platforms, social media and structured “open” data.

The ability of totalitarian societies to use these same toolkits – just as they have used rigged elections – to advance unjust and dishonest agendas is also very real. As an activists – and that is what I am – I was dismayed over the past several weeks to see the Transportation Security Administration use its well-developed social media channels to dismiss dissent with its new policies. Tools that build trust can also be used to betray it.

Gov 2.0 thrives on trust and openness. It is not a marketing program to burnish agency images, or an umbrella for vendors to sell new technologies.

Which brings me to Wikileaks. I come here because it the Wikileaks discussion has come to the Gov 2.0/”Open Gov” community.

Wikileaks is not open government, it is an independent press entity playing an important role in securing a free society, including some of the aims of open government activists.

From the birth of the U.S. to Watergate to the Pentagon Papers to Kaczynski’s Manifesto to the Iraq War and the outing of Valerie Plame, the press has played a central role – at times succeeding and at others failing – in ensuring the flow of information that society builds and thrives on. Wikileaks is an evolution of the role of the press, but one with extensive precedent.

I want you to think about some of the slogans and mottos of our newspapers:

Frederick Douglass’ North Star Newspaper (1838): “Right is of no sex, truth is of no color. God is the father of us all and all we are brethren.”

Zambia Daily Mail, Japan Times, Cambodia Daily: “All the News Without Fear or Favor.”

New Mexico State Tribune: “Give Light and the People Will Find Their Way”

The Aspen Daily News: “If You Don’t Want it Printed, Don’t Let It Happen”

Chattanooga Times Free Press: “To Give The News Impartially, Without Fear or Favor”

Colebrook News and Sentinel: “Independent But Not Neutral”

Daily Truth (New Orleans): “The Truth is Always Fair”

The Globe: “The World is Governed Too Much”

United States’ Telegraph: “Power Is Always Stealing From The Many To The Few”

I am interested in hearing and debating your thoughts on Wikileaks, and seeing the reading you’ve done to form your opinion. Here are a couple of links that I find important:

“No evidence that Wikileaks releases have hurt anyone”

“U.S. State Department tells employees not to read Wikileaks”

Tagged: wikileaks

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Joe Flood

I think you’re right – this is a big test of government 2.0. Unfortunately, government has responded in a very 1.0 fashion by blocking access to WikiLeaks by federal employees, including at the Library of Congress (now there’s irony). This action, and the accompanying memo warning feds and contractors not to access WikiLeaks, came more than a week after the site was published.

The IT security overlords are a little late with their draconian measures. If you’re going to ban something, you should probably do it before it happens. I know that the penalty for accessing WikiLeaks at one federal agency is to have your hard drive erased. So, be careful where you click.

Feds have been instructed not to read WikiLeaks. But what if you did before the ban? Can you unread something? “Don’t read this” is pretty silly, too, if you think about it, practically an invitation to read something forbidden. Considering the cables are on the front page of newspapers and covered in newscasts, I don’t know how you’re going to avoid learning about them.

Also, how will agencies mentioned in the cables respond to questions about them without actually reading them? So, the average citizen will know more about government than government does?

These clumsy efforts at damage control just make government look silly and out of touch. It would be better if they just accepted that this info was out there and moved on.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I had no fewer than 5 conversations about WikiLeaks with some government folks last week. Three ideas from those conversations:

– WikiLeaks is not Gov 2.0 or Open Government
– WikiLeaks is the apex of traditional media selling out to sensationalist content
– WikiLeaks encourages unscrupulous government employees to share sensitive or classified information, acting as “whistle blowers” in a cowardly (and dangerous) manner
– WikiLeaks will do more to hurt rather than help the Gov 2.0 / Open Gov movement as already uneasy agency leaders use it as an excuse to hold back legitimate public information

David Fletcher

WikiLeaks is not Government 2.0, it’s not even close. In fact, it is my believe that WikiLeaks is harmful and contradictory to open government. It is inviting all kinds of internal government discussions about the need to further tighten security around information. This will discourage information sharing as well as create greater suspicions related to things like social media. I agree with Andrew on this one.

Alexander B. Howard

I really look forward to seeing more comments on this topic from the Govloop community.

@David I’m seeing that and hearing it, with respect to correction from need to share back to need to know. State shut down SIPRNET before Wikileaks broke big on Sunday.

@Joe No question on a big test. And I agree that given the proliferation of stories reporting on the cables in the major media that it would be difficult to avoid learning about the contents of some cables. In general, once something enters the public domain at the NYT or Guardian, arguing that it is still classified seems like a tough case to make.

@Andrew Here’s what I’m hearing in my conversations with people in government and media:

“WikiLeaks is not Gov 2.0 or Open Government” – open data driving accountability and more transparent government could both be applied to Wikileaks, and have been by several analysts I’ve read or talked to over the year. I looked at that in more depth here:
http://gov20.govfresh.com/is-wikileaks-open-government/. I’m not surprised to hear you take the position that it is not, Andrew.

That said, Wikileaks also enabled legitimate whistleblowers with stories of waste, corruption or fraud to get them out, long before the Afghan Diaries, War Logs or Cablegate. Those leaks, however, have been corrosive to the utility or trust of that aspect of the platform, perhaps beyond recourse. That’s at least one reason why some former Wikileaks seem to be working on another version.

As to sensationalism in the media or the damage being used as an excuse, the answers to those questions are likely self evident to anyone with access to a Web browser and a good search tool.

Craig Thomler

Personally I think governments around the world have reacted in ways detrimental to their own interests (to minimise the potential damage of revelations) through blocking Wikileaks. The more governments attempt to block the site, the more people believe there are things being kept from them which are in the public interest.

We’re in an interesting position in Australia as Julian Assange is an Australian citizen, however prominent US commentators have been calling for him to be killed or treated as a violent terrorist.

An open letter, signed by a huge number of prominent and non-prominent people has gone to our Prime Minister asking for Mr Assange to be treated just like every other citizen, and accorded full support – which wasn’t immediately offered to Mr Assange by the government.

This could result in a schism between the US and Australia if the government here does heed the letter – or a schism between the government and public if they do not. That’s certainly a way to discover a government’s primary stakeholder quickly.

The open letter is here (with over 3,600 additional supportive comments): http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/41914.html

And, now he’s been arrested, the Australian government is providing legal support: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/12/08/3087441.htm

Adriel Hampton

Someone whose opinion I respect offers this opinion article regarding threats to open government from Wikileaks: “Julian Assange, Information Anarchist”
I find many of the premises in the piece disturbing (particularly that the Saudi leadership lying to its people is something the U.S. should continue to help cover up), but mostly want to restate that I wrote that Wikileaks is not “open government,” but it is playing the role of a free press. I’m an advocate of both. .