The world is under attack. At the center of it all is Julian Assange, and his organization called, WikiLeaks. Yet this isn’t an ordinary attack. There are myriad philosophical considerations that one needs to address. There is the question, “is this right, or wrong?” to, “Should governments have secrets?” There are questions like, “Is WikiLeaks doing the job of journalism?” How about questions that “what wikileaks is nothing more than voyeurism?” There is also the question on the robustness of our Internet infrastructure.
Let us first go through the implications of this on Internet infrastructure.
The implication of this thought bomb that wikileaks unleashed has repercussions on the status quo of the Internet. Denial of service by being kicked out of hosting providers is nothing new. BitTorrent and other File Sharing sites have experienced this in the past. The disabling of DNS is another, and leads to a philosophical question of the robustness of the Internet infrastructure itself. The disabling of DNS under the request of the US Government without so much due processes leans dangerously close to 1984. If it can be done to WikiLeaks, it can be done to any one who has a service, business or activity on the Internet.
Domain Name Service or DNS is the Internet equivalent of the Phonebook. To reach google.com, for instance, you type the name “google.com” on your browser. That is the same as you scrolling through your phonebook, looking for a name of the person you want to reach. The same way that your phone translates the name into a phone number so that the phone company can properly route your call, is the same as what the Web Browser does when you hit that enter key on your web browser asking it to connect to a website.
Being removed from the Domain Name Service is the equivalent of being kicked off the Internet because you become “unreachable.”
DNS and web hosting companies are well within their rights to keep you off their service through a violation of their terms of service, it raises interesting questions on fragile our online life is, by putting it on the hands of others. The removal of WikiLeaks from DNS is a point of failure.
Therefore we ask, shouldn’t there be a peer-to-peer based Domain Name Service, which the founders of the Pirate Bay are already working on, and would such a service create a darknet? One part is the regular Internet, and the other— a popularized Darknet, which is a less censored version of the original Internet.
Now the challenge is posed to Cyber Warriors on the Internet: how do you ensure the lights are on when governments, or other organizations wage cyber war on you? Is it imperative therefore to create a truly decentralized Internet? That there is a need to decentralize and secure root DNS?
How easy would it be for the next time some government wants content off the Internet?
Secretary Hilary Clinton gave a speech early this year on Internet Freedom. She spoke of the Freedom to Connect. She said, “the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace.”
A friend of mine, described a project on the Internet that we are working on as an agora.
Isn’t the Internet one huge agora?
Is not the denial of service against WikiLeaks, an attack on the Freedom to Connect?
If this Internet is free, shouldn’t it be a venue for all ideas?
If the symbol of a country is a flag, and does it also not mean that we can exercise our civil liberties by burning that flag?
If these Internets are free, shouldn’t all knowledge be freely available? Even knowledge such as those found in a corner, in those dark alleys where child pornography lurks. On one side there are those Neo-Nazis. There are trolls. There is bile. There is hate. There are words posted on blogs that make decent people sick.
As xkcd pointed out, “someone is wrong on the Internet.”
Yet, the censorship of wikileaks is that— censorship.
American representative Ron Paul on his twitter wrote regarding Wikileaks, “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”
How do we attack bad ideas, and is WikiLeaks necessarily, a bad idea?
The right of WikiLeaks to be on the Internet is apart from what it has done: release state secrets. Iraqi War Diary, and Afghanistan War logs are one thing. Is the release of Cablegate, excessive?
Should governments keep secrets?
What WikiLeaks has done is like stealing someone’s private thoughts for the whole world to know. The argument has merit in that we don’t always say what’s on our mind. We keep some opinion to ourselves, right? Dean Jorge Bocobo @-replied to me on Twitter, he said, “@cocoy if we could all read each other’s mind civilization might not be possible. Wikileaks is like that.”
That’s true too isn’t it?
Voyeurism or journalism?
Is WikiLeaks voyeurism or journalism?
The world needs to keep things secret. What wikileaks has done is the equivalent of recording a conversation between two people, and telling a third what that conversation was about.
If WikiLeaks is Voyeurism, then it suggests that the people behind WikiLeaks has done this routinely, monitoring the world’s signals. It isn’t impossible to do, but it is also difficult for few choice individuals to actively do it. State-sponsored signals gathering is required for the depth of intelligence that WikiLeaks has accomplished.
Voyeurism suggests that Jullian Assange derives pleasure in enjoying seeing someone in distress.
That isn’t who Julian Assange is. To differentiate Assange and WikiLeaks’ philosophy, its raison d’être would be a mistake.
To understand what wikileaks is, one needs to delve to understand who Julian Assange is.
Julian Assange, some say is a folk hero, a real life, “V,” from “V from Vendetta”. Some say he is out for power. Zunguzungu points out that Assange is out “to destroy this invisible government.”
In “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” (PDF link), Julian Assange wrote, “To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”
That is Assange’s belief.
Julian Assange is an anarchist.
Wikileaks traces its ethos from Assange’s hacker roots. He has combined his knowledge of the digital universe with his experience in journalism.
If knowledge is power, and if the Internet is the greatest accumulation of that knowledge and the best way to unleash the entire knowledge of human kind, isn’t that great power? In many ways, WikiLeaks has done what Journalism has failed to do: uncover the secret world of power. It opened a can of worms such as these charge that al-Jazeera changed coverage to suit Qatari foreign policy.
That can’t be good.
Wikileaks is the forbidden fruit that no one is suppose to eat. It is pandora’s box.
US State Department has warned Columbia State University students not to discuss about WikiLeaks on Facebook, on Twitter. The Huffington post quoted:
“[The alumnus] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter,” the Office of Career Services advised students. “Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.”
It is like asking to put back the toothpaste out of the tube.
Is it still censorship when the subject matter at hand is confidential information that was stolen?
Does it harm the Interest of free men everywhere to learn that funds flowing to Terror groups are now largely unimpeded? That in fact, terrorist financiers are using bank robberies, kidnap for ransom, harvesting drugs from Afghanistan, religious pilgrimages to Mecca is helping fund terrorism around the world?
What about the ambitions of Iraq’s neighbors? That apparently, their meddling is one of the many reasons why that country is still struggling in a post Saddam world?
Does the release of this information give Intelligence service around the world, an early Christmas and in doing so, does it translate to an attack on the world?
“Why Iran loves WikiLeaks,” is an example of how much damage WikiLeaks has done to the diplomatic discourse. How can diplomats speak with candor with each other after this? Does knowing all this diplomatic cable help make the world a better place, or has it simply opened a can of worms, that makes the world even more untenable?
We have taken a bite. We have opened the box. Wikileaks gives us knowledge, but it is in the analysis by the New York Times, the Guardian, and others— the filtering out of the raw data so that the world can make sense of it all is where we derive wisdom. What wikileaks has successfully done is disrupt the applecart. It has exposed fundamental weaknesses in DNS and how easily the tap can be turned off. It has thrown an egg on Journalism’s face. The story on al-Jazeera, on the dangers in Iraq, could serve the public perceptions of the fundamental trouble in the region and how utterly important it is to tame Iran.
Wikileaks released Terror targets— location of sites vital to US national security.
Is Wikileaks worth the price of disclosing US diplomatic cables, thus damaging the ability of diplomats everywhere to speak with candor with everyone?
In the same vein that Napster changed the way movie and music industry in Hollywood has, Wikileaks did something similar to fundamentally change the world of diplomacy, journalism, and government, and maybe a further decentralization of the Internet. Has Wikileaks gained a small victory in the short term, but the larger battle merely forces all players to ante up their game? Is this change as permanent as Napster’s revolution of ushering digital download? Does this therefore open up a world that requires a Steve Jobs and iTunes to fix and stabilize for the next generation, and that in the same way that Wired declared Music piracy to be over, so too would a new status quo be formed?
Photo Credit: Espen Moe, some rights reserved.
This post was originally published on Cocoy Chronicles.