Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wikileaks - A Matter of Control

The Wikileaks War - A Matter of Control

It should come as no surprise that we, collectively, have found ourselves embroiled in a Wikileaks War. This is a case that will decide many things for the future of internet freedom, and it is important for everyone to do a little research, and form an opinion on this case.

The universal declaration of Human Rights ensures  the freedom, among other things, to share information freely, through any medium, and without boundary. And, in this internet age, this case is the true litmus test of the future of the internet as a free and open democracy.

If we consider equality and freedom to be the very basic elements of democracy, then it would seem very apparent that the internet is the biggest, free ranging democracy the world has ever produced. It has opened doors for people all over the world to exchange ideas, to learn, and to be productive in new ways. It has changed, and is changing still, the landscape of traditional power dynamics, in the economy and in politics, in religion, and in art.

This is the time for people all over the world to participate in the formation of laws that would define the freedom and rights that are companion to internet acess and to define rights to access as the key component to ‘The New Economy’. It is also a time to define limits in the internet. Persecution is not the right response, it is an old school reaction, and is not appropriate in this era of change and evolution.

Most governments have acknowledged the power of the internet, as a positive force, and, as a negative with regard to ability to control the message, direction, and activity of information exchange. This is also true of business interests, and it makes this a very important time for the entrenchment and preservation of information and digital rights. It is a difficult time for business and governments trying to operate within the ‘Old Economy’ of information exchange.

The issue with Wikileaks is one of control. It is a flashpoint that could potentially be used to justify constricting freedom in the networks, based on very subjective interests. There are loud voices out there that call for exactly that, and other equally loud voices that call for the opposite. What is actually needed are voices that will call for the development of an International Internet Bill of Rights, that will entrench and define the rights of internet access and usage. This bill should clarify where the internet rights begin, and end - does it start at the connection, extend into the network? Does it transcend earthly boundaries? Is there a codified law that is operational in the network? Does enterprise or government have exceptional rights over individual rights in the network? Do users? Clearly, the controls have not been identified, and this is a problem.

A review of the international Anti Counterfiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) demonstrates an attempt at identifying some control on the internet, however, it has a particularly narrow and self serving agenda and the scope of power is dismaying to say the least. It is also troubling that there is no oversight for this programme, so that it operates without easy access or accountability. Here in Canada, it is quietly going forward for ‘domestic process’ as of December 3, 2010. Now, try to find a copy of the ACTA Treaty online. Which of course leads me back to Wikileaks, and how the right to know is, actually, a right.

We are all familiar with the usual practice of all levels of business and particularly government of keeping information secret, the classification of documents, in camera sessions, and it is my opinion that this has been one of the greatest contributors to the lack of public participation in election process throughout the world. It is the reason the internet has been so successful.

We are also familiar with the recent breakdown of the press and reporting in the old traditional framework, the uptake of online news sources that lead to the evolution of online information networks free of interference or gerrymandering of information. Much of it was a rejection of the shaped message. Things have changed.

I hope that people will be able to look at the whole Wikileaks event as a wake up call for action in getting a sound, fair, legal framework enacted that places the right to know as the prime directive, that defines access rights, and personal protections for users. And to not let it be dictated from the narrow perspective of a small group of interests.

We could start with a better look at the ACTA treaty before it becomes the global standard for legal case files on internet freedoms. We also could make ourselves heard with regard to the Wikileaks events by demanding unbiased reporting on the impact of the leaks, who undertook to implement the distributed denial of service attacks, the legality of doing such a thing, what about the current personal attacks on Mr. Assange, and what if any consequence the Wikileak postings should have in the context of people’s right to know.

I will end with a quote from Mr. Yeats from his poem Easter 1916 , that summarizes my feelings about the Wikileaks events;  "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."

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