Monday, November 8, 2010

when are 1's and 0's more than 1's and 0's?

In an interesting way, the Economist lays bare the difference between the Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks (sub req'd). Interestingly, both have intimately involved newspapers in their release (for a great breakdown of the Papers, by the way, see this book), the leakers at the center of each have similar biographies, and both laid bare data which showed the military was being less-than-truthful about its campaigns. But there's one huge difference: Daniel Ellsberg understood that his principled stand meant persecution, the near-destruction of his life, and the possibility of imprisonment. Julian Assange is doing everything he can to avoid punishment -- indeed, avoiding any culpability for actual or collateral damage:
Mr Ellsberg turned himself in, willing to be held accountable for what he has done. He faced charges—eventually dismissed—under America’s Espionage Act. In contrast, WikiLeaks distributes its servers to take advantage of whistle-blower laws in Sweden, Belgium, Iceland and America. Mr Assange enjoys the protection of several liberal democracies, but is not really accountable to any of them.

What is more, Mr Assange seems unwilling to reflect on the risks of what he is doing. Amnesty International has complained that documents in WikiLeaks’ release on Afghanistan were not sufficiently edited, and thus likely to endanger Afghans who had worked for the coalition. Even such supporters as Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic member of parliament, has expressed disappointment over how the documents were released. Mr Assange disagrees, saying that nobody needed protection as a result of the release—citing, of all sources, NATO in Kabul. In contrast, Mr Ellsberg is more self-critical and concedes, for instance, that the publication of the Pentagon Papers actually had no effect on the war in Vietnam.
In essence, Assange is doing to the Pentagon's data what Mark Zuckerberg is doing to yours: grabbing it, doing what he likes with it, and then claiming it's no big deal because it's a new digital age.

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