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This is a syndicated version of a post by Gabriella Hillgren from The Glocal Village posted on 12/07/2014
For the greater good?
Since 9/11 it has become expected of people to give up some of their privacy for higher purposes than the individual, in the interest of national security. Regulatory monitoring such as CCTV, GPS and data surveillance have all become almost conventional to most (Moore, n.d.). The notion of privacy has also diminished with the expansion of the internet which has facilitated surveillance as all actions are interconnected and more easily trackable. When Edward Snowden, former CIA and NSA employee, revealed NSA monitoring exercises of the average citizen’s communication activities in order to target potential threats, before they could be made, a conflict arises between the privacy of liberal democracy and security (Al Jazeera timeline here and Snowden interview here). Is this democratic if the intentions are? What security purposes does it fulfill?
Some argue that the increased gathering of information through intrusive techniques was what instigated WikiLeaks to some extent. It is now increasingly demanded of officials to make diplomatic and foreign affairs less covert. Until the birth of WikiLeaks in 2006 foreign affairs employees and ministers had only been held liable to their own governments. Now anybody with access to the internet can have access to what was previously classified documents.
Since its dawn, WikiLeaks has attempted to harmonise free speech regulations across the world. Julian Assange has claimed it to be an instrument of high necessity in order to highlight the significance of free speech and deliverance of information that might become vital. According to him the global mainstream media is not sufficiently investigative, for unknown reasons, some speculative reasons being: conflict of interests, laziness or pure lack of desire. Without information it is impossible for people to make briefed decisions, as the example shows, of documents leaking pre Kenyan election, changing the outcome of it (see Assange interview below). WikiLeaks states the 19th clause on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the freedom of expression and most applicable, to: “seek, receive and impart information.” (United Nations)
Knowledge is power
Mass media is one of the core notions of the liberal democracy, without it there would be little prospect of any form of transparency (Balkin, 1998). The emergence of WikiLeaks and other ‘leaks’-sites has showed the global community how knowledge truly is power. With new mediums such as these come entirely new demands and meanings of accountability and responsibility for governments and officials. As opposed to both state media and corporate media, WikiLeaks is intended as a neutral watchdog, supposedly free of bias and interest, thus, publishing all information they acquire from whistleblowers unlike official media that would have to consider its interests. WikiLeaks releases raw data without making any moral judgements on what is relevant to the civil domain or perform any journalistic editing to the material (Caryl, 2011). Therefore, it can be considered an instrument for good governance through the exposure of various foreign affairs’ cover ups that belong in the public spectrum; misconduct within classified military operations, human rights abuse and economic issues, to name a few.
Does it threaten state security?
Despite all the positive and not least democratic aspects on complete transparency to achieve good governance, it may come to affect state security. It does create a clash between the right to know and the duty to protect. There is a constant struggle between state and public interest and it is important to distinguish between when surveillance is done for public good and when it is for the good of the government, as a facilitation of their work. Edward Snowden mentions in the interview, that the NSA in the U.S. listened into conversations of average citizens, as it was easier and less time consuming for them to simply “tap” all lines and making everybody a potential threat.
There are continuous concerns regarding WikiLeaks’damage or potential damage to state security, first and foremost U.S. state security, which is the most frequent “target”. Especially the Reykjavik diplomatic cable leak, caused more of a political stir than previous ones, perhaps because it touched on sensitive issues for governments other than the U.S. (Karhula, 2012). A lot of the material that is now published on WikiLeaks deserve to be public. Much of that information being public will assist in national security, for it is not only government security but security for the people. By knowing about terrorist threats or toxic gas leaks, they have the option of preparation and appreciating risks on their own. Excessive secrecy can lead to an antagonistic and paranoid relationship between the state and civil society.
Assange himself does acknowledge that some secrets are legitimate, but does however not state whether they would be published on WikiLeaks nonetheless.
The governments may have more access to its citizen’s private lives, but the citizens certainly enjoy the same type of access to its state’s affairs. What privacy should be given up for the greater good and what are legitimate secrets? Just as citizen surveillance is supposedly done for the better of the state, so is the increased knowledge of its citizens. If people are expected to give up privacy for the security of the state, the state should provide relevant information for the security of its people. Security does not necessarily mean secrecy.
Al Jazeera, Timeline of Edward Snowdens revelations, 2013
Balkin J, 1998, How mass media simulate political transparency, Yale University
Caryl C, 2011, The New York review of books: Why WikiLeaks changes everything, January 13
Karhula P, 2012, What is the effect of WikiLeaks for freedom of information?, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, October 5
Moore A. D., n.d., Draft: Privacy, Security and Government surveillance: WikiLeaks and the new accountability, University of Washington
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations