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Sunday, January 09, 2011


funny how when the boot is on the other foot the purity of freedom of information isn't quite so shiny.

before continuing i have to confess that i think that the existence of wikileaks is, on balance, a good thing. i would be much more in favour of it if there were releases from governments that were not democratic and if the people who were responsible for it could reign in their holier than thou attitudes. 
for the moment neither seems possible so we are where we are. 

a united states grand jury has issued subpoenas to various social networks such as twitter, facebook and google for information concerning the links between wikileaks and bradley manning, the us serviceman accused of stealing and leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive government cables.
some of those named in the subpoenas have said that they will fight the disclosures.

wikileaks describes the subpoena as harassment.
julian assange has this to say: "If the iranian government was to attempt to coercively obtain this information from journalists and activists of foreign nations, human rights groups around the world would speak out."
let's just look at that statement shall we? 
strikes me as a little disingenuous to compare the legitimate use of the law of the american state to subpoena to that of iranian coercion with its implications of secret police, physical coercion and show trials. still i guess we should be thankful that he didn't play the nazi card, though i am sure it won't be long before it does. 
nor does it seem worth the effort to concern ourselves with the assertion that somehow because it is wikileaks, assange and the american government that somehow it is being brushed under the carpet and no one is protesting the actions of the grand jury and no one is trying to defend twitter et al. given that assange et al are speaking out about it, given that several are fighting the subpoenas and that the story is being reported everywhere it is hardly a case where human rights organisations have to step up to the plate to make the rest of us aware of the situation. 

brigitta jonsdottir, an icelandic mp, described thus "i think i am being given a message, almost like someone breathing in a phone." again it sounds nice, fitting nicely with the whole secret police state thing, except it is a pretty explicit message with no doubt who it is coming from. 

it seems a little ironic that wikileaks et al who are champions of freedom of information and who are happy to publish documents that were never intended for public consumption are somehow trying to protect their own information. surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander? 

of course it could be argued that the united states government is going about this in the wrong way. they are using legitimate means, they are using the long arm of the law. what they should be doing is either stealing the information or they should just be offering a large amount of cash for someone to leak the information to them, after all both are just variations on the way wikileaks obtains their information. 

the argument of assange is that wikileaks provides a useful service (i agree) but if you are going to be such a champion of freedom of information, if you are going to claim that disclosure is in the public's interest it is a little hard to then argue that your information, your data is sacrosanct. 
unless of course you believe that certain individuals are above the law or that certain individuals have to be trusted without question because their motives are noble and honourable. 
except that we would find that hard to swallow if it were the argument that governments made, so we have to take it with a pinch of salt when individuals make it. 

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