Private agendas invade public space
NZ Herald December 8
As you pen that memo or email or confidential report, just ask yourself: What if this turned up on Wikileaks?
That's the position thousands of United States diplomats, lowly embassy officials and State Department staffers, not to mention the CIA agents secreted amongst them, must now be asking as the internet-based media organisation sets about publishing 251,287 leaked US embassy cables dating from 1966 to the end of February.
It's going to take some time. A week in and only about 1000 are up so far: like old magazines in waiting rooms, many will include stories that have lost their currency.
They may be useful for historians wanting to get a head start on their projects, without having to wait for such documents to find their way into the archives and then be declassified.
Others may cast light on current conflicts and embarrass some actors.
One aspiring German politician has already had to quit after admitting he was the party up-and-comer who went to the American embassy to deliver a detailed briefing on what was happening in coalition negotiations.
Wikileaks says the trove "will give people around the world an unprecedented insight into US government foreign activities".
Spying on allies and the United Nations, turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses in "client" states, lobbying for US corporations and well-connected individuals - it's not that we don't know that's what they are up to.
The hysterical reaction by the US political and media establishment to Wikileaks is revealing and has wider implications.
A staffer for Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate's homeland security committee, asked Amazon why it was hosting the material, and the firm cut off the feed immediately.
Wikileaks tweeted: "If Amazon are so uncomfortable with the First Amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books."
Buying hosting from Amazon may have been part of a deliberate strategy to test the resolve, or the rhetoric, of such organisations.
Students have been warned they may blight their prospects of a career in government if they links to Wikileak documents, even though study of such raw material might be good training for anyone with such aspirations.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has leak problems of his own, with prosecution files on the alleged rape cases against him in Sweden being released to the media.
Calls to, in some cases quite literally, "kill the messenger" have meant the substance of the leaks disappears.
The "Collateral Murder" footage of an American helicopter shooting up civilians and reporters on a Baghdad street belied the relentless Hollywood war porn and the language of "surgical strikes" and "surges".
The field reports from Iraq show American fingerprints all over the descent into a bloody ethnic civil war in 2004 and 2005, as tactics used in El Salvador were transferred over.
One of the great historians of our times, Chalmers Johnson, who died last month, said in Blowback that Americans are surprised when people attack them because they don't know what is being done in their name.
Wikileaks trades in raw documents, not editorial opinion. The internet allows a review process - if decisions were made on the basis of this raw material, were they the right decisions?
The Wikileaks saga has implications for anyone who wants to use the internet as a medium to publish, do business or conduct political debates.
That space for debate is now not a public forum but one owned by private companies, who may have their own agendas.
Internet service providers should be switches, not censors. But politicians see them as the throat to choke when they can't throttle critics.
The negotiations in Auckland this week for the Trans-Pacific Agreement on trade has also rung alarm bells on internet management.
The US has joined in the talks and New Zealand officials fear they are trying to import into the document some of the conditions on intellectual property and internet usage which have been kept out of ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiated in Wellington this year.
According to a paper leaked via US consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, the New Zealand negotiators warned of "a tendency towards overprotection of IP in all our societies, particularly in the areas of copyright and patents".
They say intellectual property rights that are too strong detract from innovation rather than promote it.
Rights holders, such as the big music companies, are seeking more intrusive international rules on copyright. Treaties such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation Copyright Treaty provide stricter digital enforcement measures that are based on traditional concepts of copyright protection.
These treaties "have limited ability to recognise the reality of emerging new business models and new ways of consuming creative works via the internet", the paper says.
Such leaks give us a useful window into how decisions are being made that affect us all. They may even be welcomed by some negotiators as a way to get open dialogue with affected groups, getting round the constraints of official diplomacy.