Extreme Openness: the Rise of Wikileaks


There is a long journalistic tradition of looking back at the end of the year over the major events of the preceding 12 months - one that I have no intention of following. But I would like to point out an important development in the world of openness that has occurred over that time-span: the rise and rise of Wikileaks.

The site was actually founded two years ago, but most people (including myself) didn't really become aware of it until this year. Now Wikileaks is frequently to be found in the eye of the storm. Indeed, it seems consciously to be raising its sights ever higher: recently, it has published documents that are acutely embarrassing to the German and British governments.

This is all good stuff, but I do worry that at some point the goading will get too much, and the needling too successful, until repressive governments like the one currently running the UK will fight back hard - citing the tired old tropes about "terrorism" or "child pornography" or maybe just "leaves on the track" - by ordering ISPs to block Wikileaks and any mirrors that pop up.

Unfortunately, the previously despised idea of censorship is gaining respectability all around the so-called "civilised" world. As well as the recent blocking of Wikipedia in the UK - something that handily revealed the scale of censorship *already* occurring in the UK - we have had a completely dotty suggestion from UK Culture Secretary Andy Burnham that some kind of "Film-style age ratings could be applied to websites to protect children from harmful and offensive material".

Even assuming it were possible to rate the pages from the couple of hundred million Websites around the world - and, of course, it isn't - the only possible reason for wanting to do so would be to justify subsequent censorship of sites that hosted all that "harmful and offensive material", since there's no other way of "protecting" children. And the UK's not alone in this suddenly desire to shut down swathes of the Internet. As I've written elsewhere, both Australia and Italy are keen to join the digital jackboot club.

In these increasingly dark days, sites pioneering what might be called "extreme openness" - publishing really hot information that no sane Web site would touch from fear of prosecution in one jurisdition or another - become more necessary than ever in the fight for basic freedoms. The question is: will we able to look back at the end of 2009 at yet more stunning revelations from Wikileaks, or will we instead regard 2008 as a kind of Indian summer of openness, when Wikileaks was not yet blocked around the world?

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