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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,398
Marty Offline OP
OP Offline
by The Civil Beat Editorial Board

Some things truly haven't been seen before. WikiLeaks might be one of them.

It's hard to believe that the founding fathers could have ever imagined the possibilities of the Internet or a journalist like Julian Assange when they crafted the First Amendment.

If they were with us today they might well say they knew publishers they despised as much as some of our leaders today apparently do the editor-in-chief of the notorious website.

Yet the angry words of government officials and the swirling storm over whether Assange's brand of journalism can be justified are overshadowing a potentially far more disturbing aspect of this story -- the new power governments have to punish publishers.

It used to be that a publisher owned his own presses and while even the angriest of politicians might want to stop him from running them, there was essentially nothing they could do.

With the Internet, many of us believed that the power of the publisher had spread to everyone, that we lived in a time of press freedom that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.

But the WikiLeaks case exposes the vulnerability of any publisher on the Internet. What's happened to Assange and his website has deeply troubling implications for our society. And, no, we're not talking about the damage some believe he's doing to our national security by publishing classified records.

We're talking about how democracy can be diminished when government uses its power to silence a voice it disagrees with. Even more worrisome is how this case has exposed how foreign governments may be able to use their own criminal investigations to hurt and potentially silence journalists beyond their own borders.

Today, it appears, notification of a criminal investigation is enough to force businesses whose cause is not the First Amendment to cut off a publisher the way Amazon, PayPal, Visa and Mastercard each have done WikiLeaks. (Disclosure: Civil Beat Publisher Pierre Omidyar is chairman of eBay, which owns PayPal.) Unlike the press barons of old, the executives of these businesses cannot tell their shareholders that it will hurt their company more to cave on a matter of principle than to drop a customer. It is their right and common practice to shut a customer down when they receive complaints from criminal investigators, even without a court order. This even though the existence of a criminal investigation is no indication of guilt.

The executives have a fiduciary duty to do what's best for their shareholders. And if they didn't respond to government warnings, they very well could risk their own business being shut down. The end result, we're learning: A website can be cut off and cut down, even by a foreign government. The existence of a criminal investigation in a foreign country with values different from our own may be enough cause for these companies to shut off a customer.

Alas, the Internet is not free. Nor is it a place of unlimited freedom. We knew that about places like China. But until it became abundantly clear in the WikiLeaks case, not the U.S.A. Sure, it'll be impossible for the government to ever remove what Assange has published from the Internet. This is a case where the cat is definitely out of the bag. But by taking the steps they have to shut down WikiLeaks, governments create a chilling effect on other publishers, making it less likely that information that sheds light on government policy and actions that citizens should know about becomes public.

Consider what the WikiLeaks case might mean for a local publisher. Even a news organization as young as Civil Beat has already received leaked documents from would-be whistleblowers. We've published articles based on those documents and could very well feel it's the right thing to do to post them on the Internet, as is our practice with many stories.

What would happen if a prosecutor or government official went to the service that was hosting our news service and said we were the subject of a criminal investigation? Civil Beat, like other publishers, relies on payment services provided by a third party, be it PayPal or Visa and MasterCard. Without them, we don't receive revenue. We also depend on third parties to host our website. Yet we've seen in the past week that those ties can easily be severed just by raising the specter of an investigation.

These threats are new tools to hurt publishers, not all of whom have the resources or resourcefulness of WikiLeaks but many of whom may have government secrets to share even more valuable, and potentially disturbing, to anybody in power.

It's important that we not let anger against someone we may disagree with, even revile, blind us to how the very democracy we treasure can be diminished more by the actions of aroused government officials than by a news service that many believe is irresponsible.

Victory in punishing WikiLeaks could be hollow at best. A critical lesson we should take from what has happened is that the Internet is vulnerable to abuse by governments who want to silence those who expose them.

This post originally appeared at Civil Beat.

Joined: May 2000
Posts: 1,191
What a rubbish article. Wikileaks and Assange are nothing more than anarchist rabble-rousers. They're not exercising the rights of a free press anymore, they're simply publishing state secrets. Press censorship in Western countries is non-existent except when practiced by the press themselves.

Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 13,675
Limited freedom is a contradiction of terms.
Want secrets, lock them up tighter or suffer them becoming public.
Burning books makes people angry and has never had a history of doing anything but increasing the effort to sustain the knowledge it was supposed to suppress.
Julian Assange may be an emberrorist but I am happy he can be with out being jailed or deleted.

White Sands Dive Shop
Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 3,157
Moral outrage always tends to be relative.....

How, for instance, would Elbert react to a "leak " of White Sands bank account details, their credit card account numbers or perhaps their profitability defined by customer base, so other companies would know by how much they had to underbid to get the business? .....Someone possessing this information, regardless of how they came about it, may have a "right" to share it, but the harm it may cause should be factored in to whether or not the decision to do so is moral or just?

There are conflicts too many to enumerate that are being played out each day...identity theft being an obvious example, along with religious freedom, and when the information "shared" causes risk of life to our countries allies, and places our security at risk, it can and perhaps should be considered an act of treason/war and "defunding" the operation is a very minor response all things considered?

Some information is classified for good reason, and disclosing it can and should have consequenses.....

Obamas Columbia and Harvard term papers....not such a big deal....a listing of co-operating nationals at time of war....BIG can this be so difficult to understand?

It's rarely rocket science, it's usually just math: then again if you can't do the math.......
Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 13,675
When facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, was ousted from Harvard for breaking in to university computer files to acquire the address he started the facebook idea with,He said they should have paid me for showing them how vulnerable there computer information was.
Julian Assange embarrassed the government he didn't sell secrets to the enemy. The US Government will change their computers to be more secret and possibly change the embarrassing behavior made public.
Just as I would if you published my double entry excel sheets and credit card activity with Linda's Love Lace.
Is my posting this an act of treason

White Sands Dive Shop
Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 3,157
Originally Posted by elbert
Is my posting this an act of treason

To clarify..."Treason" would be the Soldier who leaked the info to Wikileaks...which is why I phreased the rhetorical question the way I did!

Originally Posted by pugwash
when the information "shared" causes risk of life to our countries allies, and places our security at risk, it can and perhaps should be considered an act of treason/war

It's rarely rocket science, it's usually just math: then again if you can't do the math.......
Joined: May 2000
Posts: 1,191
The point of the article Marty posted was it thinks Internet press freedom is at risk of government censorship. The main point of my reply was that it isn't. (Of course, China, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela etc. are exceptions but then Assange doesn't seem to be targeting those countries with his electronic diahrrea).

What Wikileaks has done has nothing to do with journalistic reporting. What they've done is bought state secrets from a treasonous soldier and made them public.

Assange's motives are not journalistic, they're political.

I said that the press censors themselves. It's true. Whether on the Internet, newsprint or TV/Radio there are very few news outlets which are truly transparent and neutral and 100% truthful in their coverage. Political bias, whether left or right, influences the press and that in itself is a form of censorship.

Joined: Nov 2002
Posts: 2,538
Chris, I disagree, the internet does become more vulnerable for censorship after WikiLeaks and we have to watch out and try to prevent that. I totally agree that what Assange does has got nothing to do with journalism. Reporting and tastes do however change; remember Larry Flint and Hustler magazine - similar case, different era.

Governments have been trying to put a fence around the internet ever since the internet started. Be it to ban child pornography, or other noble causes, in the end it can be used for more common subjects like banning opposing political views or perhaps a poker prohibition. Look at what is now happening in Australia (not a scary villain country) where Wikipedia gets blocked on occasion.

The source needs to be contained, not the messenger and CERTAINLY NOT THE INTERNET. - IMHO.

Live and let live
Joined: May 2005
Posts: 3,955
Amen Short.

Wikileaks is already being used as an excuse to give more power to the U.S. government.

I'm curious. How can someone who is not a U.S. citizen, did nothing illegal on U.S. soil, nor steal any U.S. property be accused of treason? If that's possible, then why not accuse bin Laden of treason?

I cannot condone Wikileaks any more than I can condone internet sites that promote cheating spouses. I will, however, defend to the death their rights to enagage in protected speech.

I will have a Belikin -- put it on klcman's tab.
Joined: Jul 2000
Posts: 1,925
Never heard of this guy, give him a listen..

Reality..What a concept!

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