WikiLeaks, a Napster-style Internet gamechanger for 2010

December 14, 2010 by Chris Lefkow
The homepage of with a picture of its founder Julian Assange is seen on a computer screen on December 4. WikiLeaks has governments, institutions and individuals around the world searching for answers to difficult questions surrounding US policy, free speech, Internet freedom, privacy, secrecy, transparency and the power -- and dangers -- of the Web.

If 1999 was the Year of Napster in the history of the Internet then 2010 will go down as the Year of WikiLeaks.

Napster, the file-sharing renegade, upended the music industry and copyright in ways still being felt a decade later while , for better or worse, is likely to have a similar impact on government secrecy and transparency.

For now, WikiLeaks has governments, institutions and individuals around the world searching for answers to difficult questions surrounding US policy, free speech, , privacy, secrecy, transparency and the power -- and dangers -- of the Web.

WikiLeaks has argued that its release of hundreds of thousands of secret US documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the inner workings of US diplomacy exposes US military abuses on the battlefield and "contradictions between the US's public persona and what it says behind closed doors."

Its detractors denounce the release of the documents as a crime carried out by a disgruntled US soldier and abetted by a self-appointed truth-teller in the person of WikiLeaks founder .

Clay Shirky, a prominent US writer on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, said he has mixed feelings about WikiLeaks although he staunchly opposes extrajudicial efforts to shut it down.

"Like a lot of people, I am conflicted about WikiLeaks," Shirky said in a blog post on his website,

"Citizens of a functioning democracy must be able to know what the state is saying and doing in our name," Shirky said. "Wikileaks plainly improves those abilities.

"On the other hand, human systems can't stand pure transparency," he said. "People trying to come to consensus must be able to privately voice opinions they would publicly abjure, and may later abandon.

"Wikileaks plainly damages those abilities."

A protester holds a placard reading, "Free Julian Assange" as he talks to a police officer at the City of Westminster Magistrates Court, ahead of a hearing for the Wikileaks founder, in London.

Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of technology and politics blog, said he sees WikiLeaks as a "Napster moment in the evolution of how technology changes the relationship between people and their governments."

"The way in which we think about power itself is altered as a result of the Web," Rasiej told AFP. "Everybody, basically, has a printing press in their hands that is connected to every other printing press."

"I would hope that after everything calms down that the government recognizes that it has to fight for openness and transparency and use classification only in rare occasions," he said.

Rasiej said he was concerned, however, that instead of embracing greater transparency, "governments may try to invoke a cure that may be worse than the disease."

James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said just such a clampdown may be the legacy of WikiLeaks.

He noted that was eventually shut down by the courts although it lives on in myriad reincarnations such as The Pirate Bay.

"Ten years from now no one's going to look back and say WikiLeaks was a good thing," Lewis told AFP. "They may have started out with good intentions but it's going to backfire.

"I think the thing that's going to happen is people are going to step back and ask 'Is this responsible politics?' 'Is this what we want?' And I think the answer is going to be no," he said.

"The WikiLeaks people have been about as irresponsible as you can get and they're going to provoke a response and the response will be to try to constrain this kind of activity in the future," Lewis said.

"No government and no company is happy with the idea that somebody can steal their data and these guys can just publish it," he said.

Media analyst Jeff Jarvis, in an op-ed article for Germany's Welt am Sontag republished on his blog, said WikiLeaks and the Internet have combined to "puncture" the power of government secrecy.

"Whether or not it ever reveals another document -- and we can be certain that it will -- Wikileaks has made us all aware that no secret is safe," Jarvis said.

"Let us use this episode to examine as citizens just how secret and how transparent our governments should be," he said. "For today, in the Internet age, power shifts from those who hold secrets to those who create openness.

"That is our emerging reality."

Explore further: WikiLeaks to defy US demands on leaked cables

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3.9 / 5 (8) Dec 14, 2010
What a horribly biased article. What is being argued here is that people can't handle knowing the truth and that government should be able to lie at will regardless of the consequences. It portends that people want to be lied to and that society cannot function if the truth be told. This is arguing for illegal activities as though they are a required part of government machinery.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Could you imagine a burglar or a murderer saying that it was unfair and irresponsible for the.police to let the community know what they were really.doing?

Secrecy is always an unwelcome enemy and almost never justified.
3.3 / 5 (6) Dec 14, 2010
Justice Hugo L. Black "The Press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people."

Since has.failed us, we are left to surrogates sic as wikileaks instead.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2010
You're right mysticshakra, and it's our responsibility to secure our Internet connections with each other by contributing our resources to the distribution system.

I hope that we see the spread of torrent based clouds that allow "websites" to exist in a cloud of users, who each host a bit of the data and host the information as a P2P system. Instead of a web page that uses a browser, we could use a free app that allows articles to load as torrents and we can create a robust and defensible system against the secrecy machine.
3 / 5 (4) Dec 14, 2010
I find it ironic that the NY Times published WikiLeaks documents, but refused to publish ClimateGate documents.

The NY Times is following in the footsteps of Walter Duranty who help coverup up mass murder under Stalin to win a Pulitzer.

2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 14, 2010
Assange has released info that hurts directly or indirectly the U.S. or her allies. He has yet to release, in the name of justice, leaks from Russia or China. This guy is an anarchist whose self proclaimed aim is to harm the U.S. and notice who are his biggest champions and more importantly who he surrounds himself with (Communists/Marxists).
3.3 / 5 (6) Dec 14, 2010
Seriously, the cold war is over mate, the iron curtain fell.

Anyway, Wikileaks to me is simply how governments should aim to be run, all information (except personel files which should still be accessible but under some terms(ie; warrents, or data protection laws (asking for info on self etc)), should be released into the public space as soon as it becomes non-immediate/present information.
All military and tactical operations after they're complete, all diplomatic statements(internal or otherwise) and comments, etcetc, for two reasons really, one to prevent sites from wikileaks having any 'power', and two, but much more importantly, it'll stop comments that people will later regret if they ever do surface, from being made in the first place, because they'll know that it'll be made public later, or immediately.

Secrets are never a good thing.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 14, 2010
I'm not sure that 'secrets are never a good thing', but nonetheless, I support WikiLeaks' mission. I don't think that Julian's sex trial has anything to do with the higher principles. Already, others are setting upother websites that do the same thing as WikiLeaks. I'm reminded of the contention that -- in an age of ubiquitous tele-monitoring -- the way to insure fairness is to allow everyone access to all the video footage being created in our public spaces. I'm also reminded of the physorg article that found that people behave better when posters of staring eyes are posted on the walls around them.
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2010
Why is J. Assange being 'Hung' instead of 'Tried'?
Liars, Cheats, and Thieves absolutely Abhor Light!

And WE continue to 'pretend' to think that Our interests are of Any consequence . . .

Madoff's World is here!
Adapt or else!
The Now World of 'New Ethicists' rule in absentia;
just Do Not Illuminate their Cave!

Roy J Stewart,
Phoenix AZ
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2010
Why does our society have politicians handling millions of dollars as employees of the public with less oversight and transparency than the cashiers at Wall Mart who are under continuous camera surveillance?

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