But as we can see from what has been leaked, there is much we should know -- actions taken in our name -- that government holds from us. We also know that the revelation of these secrets has not been devastating. America's and Germany's relationship has not collapsed because one undiplomatic diplomat called Angela Merkel uncreative. WikiLeaks head Julian Assange told the Guardian that in four years, "there has been no credible allegation, even by organizations like the Pentagon, that even a single person has come to harm as a result of our activities."
So perhaps the lesson of WikiLeaks should be that the open air is less fearsome than we'd thought. That should lead to less secrecy. After all, the only sure defense against leaks is transparency.
But that is not what's happening. In the U.S., the White House announced a new security initiative to clamp down on information. The White House even warned government workers not to look at WikiLeaks documents online because they were still officially secret, which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of secret as something people do not know. I fear that one legacy of WikiLeaks' work will be that officials will communicate less in writing and more by phone, diminishing the written record for journalism and history.
I have become an advocate of openness in government, business, and even our personal lives and relationships. The internet has taught me the benefits of sharing and connecting information.
This is why I have urged caution in not going overboard with the privacy mania sweeping much of modern society and especially Germany. Beware the precedents we set, defaulting to closed and secret, whether in pixelating public views in Google Street View, or in disabling the advertising targeting that makes online marketing more valuable and will pay for much of the web's free content.
I fear that a pixel fog may overcome us, blurring what should be becoming clearer. I had hoped instead that we would pull back the curtain on society, letting the sunlight in. That is our choice.
Monday, December 06, 2010
Jeff Jarvis's reasoned defense of Wikileaks, from the Huffington Post: