The Meaning of Wikileaks

Wikileaks does it again, publishing material that was meant to be classified and protected. People have called it treasonous and recommended legal action. Others have suggested a cloak-and-dagger approach to punish the guilty. President Obama has called for agencies to review their procedures for handling sensitive material. The general consensus among those in Government and among those private citizens who oppose the action of Wikileaks is that we must stop the leaks somehow.

My opinion is that we can try sticking our finger in the cracked dike, but that will not stop all the leaks. What we need to realize is that it is a new world; it is an open world. In a flash, from anywhere in the world, I can publish a paragragh or a terabyte and make it instantly visible to the rest of the connected world. Iran and China have tried to block the more offensive addresses on the internet, but willful people longing to be free will find a way around the barriers.

Federal agencies should secure their secrets and protect the people mentioned within the secrets. However, I think the larger lesson is that we can no longer sustain large, secretive agencies. Overtime, the large federal agency will become irrelevant. The nature of the internet is to collaborate with total abandon. The rules of a nation-state are simply a hindrance to what will inevitably dominate the earth. We do not want more trade barriers or more wars; we want to be free to collaborate and compete globally.

As Thomas Friedman pointed out, there was a time when global collaboration and competition was driven only by nations. Eventually, the vehicle for global collaboration and competition was driven by the multinational corporation. Once the internet approached ubiquity, we found ourselves able to compete and collaborate globally as individuals. Some guy in a jungle on a remote continent can affect the thinking of a whole group of American suburbanites with one tweet. A talented wicker-weaver in the middle of nowhere can setup a global storefront and become a multinational corporation all by herself with little expertise or effort.

Unfortunately for some people, this is actually just controlled chaos. You can’t herd cats, and you can’t keep secrets easily. Now that we are all individuals playing by our own rules, we are are going to reject the rules around of others. Governments have an important role to play here to make sure that the wild west is kept on a level playing field–in other words, to protect us from the most selfish and greedy violators.

I am not defending or supporting Wikileaks here. They don’t appear to be considering the ethical impact of their disclosures. As an individual, I wouldn’t want my secrets revealed to the world. For instance, my SSN is a powerful number that needs to remain secret. My medical history may appear benign to my doctor, but in the hands of some people it may be enough to keep me from the job I deserve–therefore we keep it secret. I certainly don’t want anyone to know what my spouse and I argue about, nor do I want to hear about your arguments. Some secrets are important.

What I am supporting is the inevitable. We can’t stop the world from becoming more open. We don’t want to. With more people working on a problem, the solutions become more creative and more efficient. Diseases like cancer may not be cured without openness, for example. We just need to realize that it is a different planet in 2010 than it was just 20 years ago. In 1990, if I knew a major secret I would have to go through the bureaucracy of a major publisher and it would takes weeks to get revealed if it ever was. Now I can expose it globally, for free, from the comfort of anywhere on the planet, all by myself or in collaboration with any one of the millions of individuals who would like to help me.

The war in Iraq has demonstrated that the old way of fighting wars will no longer work. The enemy will dress like a civilian, live with civilians, and not be seen when he detonates the IED. If you are dressed like a Marine and driving down the same road you always do in an unarmored Humvee, you will not have the chance to defend yourself when you are attacked. Fireteam formations and raw aggression are useless against an insurgency. The military is adapting to the new rules. Now our diplomatic and intelligence agencies will have adjust to their new rules too. One of those rules will be: support individualism and reduce or eliminate inefficient bureaucracies.

Originally posted on Perceptions of Reality.

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