Monday, December 13, 2010

Do People Have the Right to See Government Documents? Or is Wikileaks Really High-Tech Terrorism?

THE MAN BEHIND Wikileaks, a website that reveals previously undisclosed information, has been labeled as a whistleblower, high tech terrorist and a hero of information.

Wikileaks is slowly been releasing a 15-year cache of cables from US embassies around the world.

In response, the White House released this statement: “We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information."

There are more than 250,000 emails and other correspondence, mostly with US officials complaining about dignitaries from other countries. Much of the released information is fairly tame, though feelings could be hurt. For instance, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is described in the cables as an "alpha-dog." Afghan President Hamid Karzai is reported to be "driven by paranoia." And German Chancellor Angela Merkel allegedly "avoids risk and is rarely creative."

Does the public have the right to see these documents?

Should Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (pictured above on the cover of Time magazine) be arrested for espionage (rather than the unrelated sexual assault charges he is currently being held on in London)?

Is Assange a hero or a terrorist?

Is Wikileaks journalism?

11 comments:

Mark Longacre said...

I think there is a fine line between journalism and espionage. Personally, I think it is journalism, and journalism's priority is the truth, is it not? If he found a way to obtain the information, he has every right to post it. The way I see it, its like facebook. Once information is out there, it is out there. If you choose to send it somewhere, regardless of how encrypted the network is, you run the risk of someone finding it. If documents are that secret, don't put them on a computer. While that sounds very unrealistic, its the only way to keep things truly secret.

Alexis Wright-Whitley said...

I totally agree with Mark here. I mean, it may not have been the best thing for Assange to publish "private documents", but the government should have taken stronger precautions, in case someone with the intentions of harming the United States were capable of what Assange was capable of.

Haley Kmetz said...

Alexis makes a very good point by explaining that terrorists may possess the same hacking capabilities as Julian Assange. This situation should not be a criticism of journalism, but a criticism of the government and a message to the United States to better protect their top secret documents. I think the United States is just upset at how easily someone tapped into their documents and they are going to blame it on the media. The information leaked was actually relatively tame.

Tracy L. Kirkendall said...

Hmmm... this one is tricky. I can't necessarily say the public has the right to know that its officials think of Putin as an "alpha dog." You have to think about what these documents are: classified. They are classified for a reason, but should Assange be prosecuted for espionage? It depends. What are his intentions? Why did he reveal secret government documents? If he intended to somehow undermine the US gov't by doing so, then he most likely should be prosecuted. But how can you prove intent? And what about his source. Assange didn't walk in, take the documents and publish them. They were given to him. So, technically he acted like a reporter given inside information and he ran with it. I think the US gov't should be a little more concerned with Assange's source of information rather than Assange himself. It doesn't say much for US security when its own people are able too expose its deepest secrets.

Rick Kauffman said...

Love it. Deep throat of the Internet age. This is what you work towards as a journalist, isn't it? Transperancy in the government, the need for information, a right to know the truth. Assange is going to go down though, one way or another. There always needs to be a scapegoat, but at least we can watch this one unfold in front our eyes.

Giulia Valtieri said...

wikileaks is definately journalism. I just don't think it is necessary for the public to know eevry single thing the government is doing. We have a govenment and leaders in place to take care of things for us and not need to worry about every little thing. To want to know every scandalous thing the government does is kind of an anarchist's way of thinking. Unless it benefits the public to know, keep some things hush hush. Sometimes, especially during war time, things should be kept confidential. On the other hand the U.S. does do many things that are unethical and since we live in a democracy the public's ideals should match those of the elected government officials.

Jonathan said...

Not to get overly technical, but I don't think Wikileaks is as much journalism as a medium for conveying information. A fine line, I know, but hear me out. Journalism takes something, researches it, organizes it into a coherent story, publishes it, and provides a forum for debate. Wikileaks just takes what they are given and publishes it, sort of like a cookbook of user-submitted recipes.

As much as I despise Assange, who had threatened to release all the cables, including the ones that put lives in danger, if he was arrested for a sex crime, if anyone is to be tried it should be the private who provided him with the cables. That said, since Assange is doing this as much if not more for himself (see the interview he gave where he said to stick it to America was very "personally satisfying" to him) as for any principle he may hold, he's no hero.

Aaron Stevens said...

I personally have to agree with Jonathan. Assange seems to think he's some sort of present day Woodward or Burnstein; but when these two came across their information they didn't immediatly act on it. They verified, cross checked their sources, and made sure they (their sources) were legitimate. It was when they found holes in the information they were finding that they then looked further into it.

Assange is really nothing more than the National Enquirer or People Weekly for the United Nations. Since as a journalist you have a responsibility not only to your information but also your sources, and if Assange isn't going to protect his sources then he has seriously violated a tenant of journalism. From what I can see Assange has not done any real research, or fact checking and is also taking all of these cables completely out of context which would then make him a gossip hocker. This would then put him on the same level as other supposed journalists, like TMZ or weekly world news. I do see the importance for someone to keep governments honest and the need for the public to have a knowledge of whats going on around them; but not in this way. The ends do not justify the means.

Sarah Mariano said...

Can we go with both? Assange did his job. He did some research, gathered the information, wrote about his findings, and published it. But on the other hand, some of the information he distributed could come back to bite our nation in the butt. I believe that the American people have the write to know what our country is doing, but if that means that us knowing could potentially harm us, I’d rather not know. Should he be called a terrorist for this, I’m not sure. Did he get his information legally or did he steal it? Again, I’m not sure and I doubt we ever will.

James McCreery said...

Journalism at its best. He made a huge impact didn't he? Isn't that what journalism is all about? Stirring up trouble?

billydelion75 said...

Journalist should be printing information that is relevant and pertinent to the betterment of society as a whole. Part of that is an awareness of what is going on around us and in our government but I do not see any relevance or pertinent info being given in these leaked documents, atleast not concerning us as the people of this society. But these documents that mean almost nothing to us as an average citizen may be misconstrued in some way by one of our enemies or allies and that would be detrimental to our society as a whole. Since the info is not pertinent to us I do not think he should be allowed to print classified documents that may cause friction. If these were documents directly addressing the well being of the people then yes we have a right to see those documents. Military maneuvers and conversations should not be privy to the public. It undermines our whole concept of national security.