The ‘Leak’ in Public Consciousness

The basic criticism of the latest WikiLeaks episode revolves around the notion that making sensitive information a part of public domain knowledge jeopardizes public safety as it can easily be used by non-state players to cause harm to the masses. This criticism, is however incomplete as it fails to address and check the philosophical and psychological grounding over which such immature attempts to democratize information thrive.

To understand the true import of WikiLeaks we must leave aside the fact that apart from the potentially dangerous revelations of WikiLeaks such as a list of “critical infrastructure“ sites around the world, much of the information under the CableGate scanner is unremarkable and deals with basic truisms (e.g. NATO countries plan to protect Poland); forget for a minute also, that most of this information is deliberative in nature - these are not acts of omission or commission that governments are generally expected to be accountable for; forget also the not-so-moot-point that Diplomats too have the freedom of expression and need a measure of informality as a tool to allay the over-neutralization of their language due to occupational hazards.

Now, even from this dumbed-down mode of reasoning, there scarcely is any revelation in the “leaks” that warrants attention of anyone serious about the real issues concerning the world today. The media attention given to WikiLeaks seems to stem from the mere fact that these cables were supposed to be official secrets. Its evident now that the internet has truly come to the rescue of everyone looking for instant gratification of their highly romanticized fantasies of a revolution.

In India, a comparison of “CableGate” with “RadiaGate” also gives us a clearer understanding of the main issue at hand. While RadiaGate exposed the modus-operandi of a morally corrupt media working from the insides of an institutionalized darkness of a gangrenous journalism, WikiLeaks radicalizes the notion of secrecy-in-accountability by undermining the importance of guarding relatively sensitive information from the eyes of a vigilant civil society. The result is that the masses get ever more paranoid in a world where the media cannot be trusted and those independent-whistleblowers and cyber-activists who claim to be the more responsible replacements for traditional media start broadcasting information which can potentially be used against the people themselves, thereby rendering powerless the very masses they proclaim to empower.

The roots of the CableGate spectacle seem to lie in a misunderstanding of the role and significance of the government in keeping secrets from the general public. Accountability in foreign policy of any country should hardly be a matter of concern to anyone without the means for understanding or processing the vast amount of information involved in the making of said policy. Needles to say, there are aspects of this information which, in the wrong hands can cause much damage not only to the country in question but to global order in general.

The advent of the internet and opening up of information, the general trend towards liberalization and the progressive nature of democratic reforms around the world seem to give some people the wrong idea that anyone with enough information can challenge the status-quo. What this heady concoction of information and liberalism seems to withhold from the thusly enlightened fellow is that there are facets of status-quo which must not be challenged for the sake of basic rights of mankind. Also, this has once again pointed towards the need for the internet population of the world to evolve models of self-censorship for the internet so that any “leaked” data may be protected before it reaches the wrong audience.

A clear, dispassionate analysis of the whole WikiLeaks affair shows the dangers of stretching the limits of accountability and transparency to the point of reducing them to the idealized rhetoric of conspiracy theorists. It also shows that secrecy (both at an individual as well as political level) is indispensable. Therefore, all that Julian Assange and his partners must be lauded for is showing us the limits of political activism. Having means to do away with secrecy does not necessarily mean we have to do away with it. Mr. Assange may disagree with me but I do not see his credit-card numbers “leaking” anytime soon.


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