Wikileaks: A Step Too Far?

If you hadn’t already heard, ever-controversial “whistle-blowing” website Wikileaks have published a handful of government documents on Afghanistan. This isn’t exactly news, as they’ve published similar documents before, and the files aren’t really particularly interesting or scandalous. What is interesting is how they got them – if you believe Wikileaks, they cracked the password on the .mil website the documents were residing on. There’s been some laughter on the internet that the military would try to protect anything on a computer, anywhere, with as insecure a password as “progress”, but I myself wonder if Wikileaks haven’t overstepped their bounds with this latest “leak”…

If Wikileaks’ own claims are to be believed – which I don’t think they can be, but let’s pretend, just for the moment – they, the collective, exist to provide a service which third parties can employ to leak, anonymously and with a high degree of deniability, records and documents they’d like to see made public, for whatever reason. Words like “exposure”, “corruption”, “truth-teller”, and “whistle-blower” get bandied around a lot, which makes Wikileaks sound pure of heart and noble of purpose.

Now, to be fair, helping whistle-blowers get their word out is good and important work, and exposing corruption is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. That Wikileaks have done very little of this is perhaps immaterial; they do occasionally “help get the truth out”, for given, albeit very tiny, values of “truth”.

It’s one thing to serve as a conduit or platform for the release of materiel acquired from third parties, but quite another to – let’s put this bluntly – hack into a government computer and acquire material yourself. Wikileaks only pretend to be journalists, and so are of course unconcerned about objectivity or integrity, but you’d think they’d either be bright enough to not commit very obviously criminal acts themselves, or at least not brag about it after the fact.

I have no doubt that after many months of running the site with no real meaningful legal consequences, at least a few of the group’s members – the identities of several of whom are public – feel “untouchable”; whether through hubris or ignorance, some might even feel – all too ironically – that they can’t be held accountable for their actions. I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re in for a very rude awakening soon, and will be found to have “gone too far” and “crossed a line” they shouldn’t have – unnecessarily and stupidly jeopardizing their little project for no particularly good reason.

I can understand Wikileaks wanting a large volume of materiel to post, considering their current outright begging for funding, but under the circumstances you’d think they’d try to take pains to avoid engaging in – or at least bragging about – activities that run the risk of alienating would-be donors. Do the ends justify the means? I don’t think so, but I do think Wikileaks’ recent actions are likely to be tried in more than just the court of public opinion…

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on March 2nd, 2009| Comments Off on Wikileaks: A Step Too Far?

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