Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wikileaks and Anonymity

I just finished watching a four part series on youtube.com about wikileaks. I find the topic fascinating on multiple levels. Most definitely one cannot look at the issue in terms of black and white. Wikileaks is not pure evil or pure goodness. My post will be in two parts: an insight into the nature of wikileaks and a short ethical analysis of the ethics.

The Nature of Wikileaks
Wikileaks' foundation has two columns. First, free access to information. This is obvious if anyone who reads about them in the news. Second, it is based on guaranteed anonymity. It is interesting that they want freedom of information but not all information. They want the names of those who leak information to remain unknown. This is to protect those who leak information since what they're doing is breaking the law, and releasing their names would discourage future leaks.

So, Wikileaks is not in favor of releasing ALL information freely to the public. They have to agree that some information must remain secret.

Lastly, information is power because it is knowledge. They believe that knowledge is power. This is a philosophically very important point since this means that information is not neutral. It has value.

The Ethics
As I said before, this is not a black and white issue. I don't think that the activities of wikileaks are ethically coherent. As stated in the documentary, they believe that it is okay to risk the lives of people by exposing information to the world for the sake of keeping public officials accountable. Yet, they believe that the lives of those who leak information should be protected, not exposed to the world, for the sake that they continue to do so.

Why is it that those who break the law and act in secrecy are kept safe while others suffer? For the greater good? What greater good? There are two possible answers:
1. That information be freely given to the world.
2. That public officials are held accountable for their actions.
I find these two answers to be poor.

First, on what authority does wikileaks give that they can keep the identity of those who leak information confidential while exposing the work of public officials? If they are in favor of freedom of information, shouldn't these individuals identities revealed?

Second, in the documentary wikileaks has expressed moral outrage at the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq in the way civilians were treated. Yet, where is the moral outrage of wikileaks jeopardizing people's lives by leaking classified documents? Sure, public officials are embarrassed and its causing diplomatic strain, but who's going to keep wikileaks accountable for their actions? If someone dies because of wikileaks that puts blood on wikileaks hands for their actions.

I do not believe that wikileaks has the moral high ground. They are just as responsible as public officials for their actions. Yet, what they are doing is revealing who people really are? They are giving us the truth. I find that to be good even though its hard to accept the truth many times.

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