Wikileaks, King Midas and the donkey ears

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Marcos Zunino

03 May 2012

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Bradley Manning can be in jail and Julian Assange facing extradition, Wikileaks’ website can suffer denial of service attacks or be shut down, but any measure the US can take against Wikileaks is like trying to plug the leaking hull of the Titanic with a plaster.

The sheer amount, sensitivity and diversity of the information leaked by the whistleblower website show the impact that new technologies have to change the landscape of information exchange. The Wikileaks’ cables mark a watershed on information exchange, secrecy and diplomacy.

Of course security is going to be tougher on information access. Bradley Manning was a private – the lowest echelon of the rigid military hierarchy – and yet he managed to access, copy, and distribute 251,287 confidential diplomatic cables. No security measure, however, is going to be able to reverse the ease of circulation which modern information technologies allow.

Wikileaks feat would have been impossible in the times of ink and paper. Private Manning would have needed a convoy of trucks to transport the leaked cables. In these times of fluid information which can travel around the world in milliseconds and be infinitely reproduced, the rules of secrecy have been rewritten.

Despite the care taken to ensure confidentiality, diplomats and politicians are bound to be more cautious about what they write, who knows if somewhere, sometime a whistleblower is going to take those words and disseminate them to the world. 

King Midas was ashamed of his donkey ears which he hid from the world. He made his barber swear not to tell anybody about them. However, the barber could not keep the secret and whispered the truth to a hole in the ground. Later the reeds that grew on that meadow whispered to the wind the secret that King Midas had donkey ears.

The internet is today’s meadow and anybody can be the reeds or the barber.

Even if Julian Assange is extradited and convicted and Bradley Manning is condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison – although the US military seems in no hurry to try him – the world of diplomacy and politics is not going to go back to the time before the cables were leaked. Neither the US nor any other country can ever win the war against Wikileaks because there is no war to win.

Wikileaks is just a messenger of these times and there is no way to stop the potential that the internet has for whistleblowers. That is, unless they pull the plug.

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