By Cassaundra Fincke, Kevin Carney, Sarah Crawford, and Emily Narduzzi
“The War on Wikileaks and Why It Matters,” written by Glenn Greenwald for Salon Magazine, provides an interesting analysis of the work being done at Wikileaks, and what our government trying to stop their existence says about our national privacy as a whole. Essentially, Greenwald supports Wikileaks for their efforts to expose classified government information because some of the safety nets to expose improper governmental activities have been largely derailed. He makes claims regarding how the media has been “co-opted” and “crippled by financial constraints,” which has affected our ability as citizens to see investigative reporting regarding the dealings of the government. Furthermore, he states that our Congress provides almost no meaningful oversight in regards to regulating the secretive work of other government organization, and moreover, the Congress is largely controlled by the individuals who wish to maintain the secrecy of these governmental organizations.
According to Greenwald, this is where Wikileaks comes into play. In the midst of an age gone digital, he attests that Wikileaks protects the American public because the government has secrecy “at an all time high.” Wikileaks is essentially intended to keep the government honest because as long as they exist, they cannot act in secrecy without fear of being exposed to the general public. Julian Assange, the editor of Wikileaks, claims that “the information which is concealed or suppressed is concealed or suppressed because the people who know it best understand that it has the ability to reform. So they engage in work to prevent that reform…” Greenwald applauds these efforts to expose information put forth by Wikileaks, and repeatedly commends the group for doing what the media and Congress fail to do for the American citizens in this day and age. However, I raise the question, what do you mean by reform, and why are we seeking this large scale reformation?
I do not doubt that the US Government may be “at an all time high” with secrecy, but I do not believe they can really be blamed for being in such a state. As a world power, the United States is susceptible to many threats, and we are also still within a time period where 9/11 is glued in the minds of every American citizen. As a result, the American government takes steps to make sure that they can preserve our safety. I do not know of a single government in the world that does, or should, keep military operations and top security items in the open for the public. This is not even because I do not trust the American people, but more so because once information is in the open to the American people, then it is in the open to anyone with an internet connection.
As Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore discuss in their article, “The End of Hypocrisy,” this new lack of privacy also threatens all foreign policy of the United States. Many governments and citizens around the globe have observed that the U.S government doesn’t always stick to its word, but because of the level of involvement the U.S has in global affairs there have been many blind eyes. After Snowden’s disclosure these governments had the right and the obligation to address the hypocrisy of the U.S. So this disclosure has two possible effects on our foreign affairs. It forces the government to face its hypocrisy and may force to government to remain steadfast in its policies and reconsider going against these policies for our self-interest. The leaks could also possibly steer different nations to address the occasional hypocrisy of our country’s government.
From here arises questions regarding the leaking of our governmental information. Are the leaks putting our foreign policy in jeopardy? If so, how should the U.S go about fixing this? As mentioned before total transparency in our government is not practical. The leaks may force the U.S to disclose more foreign policy information and act in accordance to this. Wikileaks not only brought up the issue of security and privacy but also the issue of foreign relations and the trustworthiness of the U.S. Is being a reliable country worth giving up the pursuit of self-interests? The answer, I believe, is yes. Now how much of this requires American transparency?
There obviously has to be some semblance of privacy in order to ensure effective military operations and a strengthened ability to protect our American way of life. And returning to my question prior asked, I feel no need for this “reform” that Assange mentions. I am extremely happy as an American citizen, and I am proud of the measures the American government takes to keep me safe. I respect Wikileaks attempts to keep the government honest by knowing that they cannot do whatever they want in complete secrecy, but I worry about the harms Wikileaks poses to the American public. One day they could choose to leak a piece of information that is truly determinantal to American society, and then their efforts to provide a system of checks and balances has turned into a very hazardous situation. My opinion, if you really want a better way to keep our government accountable for their actions, then lets find a more structured way to do it. Wikileaks is an independent organization with their own agenda, and I do not feel comfortable with them trying to keep our government honest all on their own accord. I do not trust someone who states, “I enjoy crushing bastards, I like a good challenge.” This all seems fine and well until something overly sensitive gets leaked and it affects our country’s ability to effectively respond to a dangerous situation. You raise a good cause Wikileaks, but let’s be more structured about this, and please keep your independent reformation to yourself.
Additionally, the statement that “The NSA has become the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever,” is pretty ironic. The NSA’s job is essentially to protect our government who can therefore protect our country. With the intense secrecy, you would think that they would not be able to do their job. However, on the contrary, it does make sense that certain things need to be kept under wraps. Our country would not operate as well as it does if everything was constantly exposed to the general public. It is quite interesting and confusing still, considering the wikileaks ethicality and role through the process. How do they choose what information to publicize? What is worth it to them to relay to the general public? Often times these outings can create situations of panic and can potentially cause more harm than good. It is hard to know the difference between crossing the line and posing genuine concern for our country’s safety. It is also extremely difficult for authority to step in and respond in these situations. As discussed in the riot article, at least at the moment, it would be extremely difficult (perhaps close to impossible) for police to keep an eye on these social media sites. “Police would need to monitor social media with a level of intelligence—attuned to popularity, cognizant of slang, filtering for location—that right now is beyond the reach of even sophisticated tech startups, let alone cash-strapped police departments.”
From reading the “Edward Snowden” article by Greenwald, MacAskill, and Poitras in The Guardian, it is clear that Snowden is of the cyber liberation school of thought. Snowden says he does not view himself as a hero for exposing the government because “what [he’s] doing is self-interested: [he doesn’t] want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.” The cyber liberation view argues that information wants to be free, meaning everyone should have the right of free speech in what they post on the internet, and have the assurance of privacy from companies and the government. As we all know, this is not the case today. As a high school student, you are constantly warned that college admission officers can easily hack onto your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts, and use what they see against you in the admission process. Once getting to college, this fear is even further instilled in us with higher stakes: potential employers will easily look up your social media accounts to screen them for things that may reflect poorly on job applicants. I was shocked to learn in class on Tuesday that some employers will even make you log into your Facebook in the middle of an interview, which many of us believe is a total violation of privacy and very unethical. The founding fathers of our country originally regulated government control in areas such as the right to privacy so that the government would not overstep their bounds. In this sense, Snowden is right to call the spying a “threat to democracy,” however some problems could arise with total internet freedom as well. For example, it has been said that the government is notified whenever someone Googles “how to make a bomb.” In cases like this where potential terrorists could be Googling these things, government surveillance and intervention could be seen as a positive thing. The fact that one can so easily Google search how to make an explosive bomb as well as many other harmful things is a scary thought in and of itself. However, I believe government regulation becomes too invasive when they start tapping phone lines and e-mail accounts. Where do you stand in this debate? What are some of the positives and negatives of cyber liberation you see?
I also noted a quite paradoxical aspect of this article. Throughout the beginning of the article, there are many quotes from Snowden saying things such as, “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” However, the rest of piece focuses completely on Snowden’s background, job history, and how he came to the decision to expose the truth. This, along with every conversation I’ve had about government spying since this story broke, leads me to the conclusion that it is difficult, if not impossible to discuss this case without talking about Edward Snowden. Despite his intentions, he will forever be linked to this scandal (it is often even referred to as the Edward Snowden case). Having a person linked to political scandal gives the common people a hero as they can praise Snowden for exposing the truth about how their government is deceiving them, while also giving the government a scapegoat. Snowden has also remained very in control of how the story is told.
“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was
legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that
would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t
my goal. Transparency is.” He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to
journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should
Snowden arguably chose to speak to Greenwald because he knew Greenwald also believes in cyber liberation, and would thus tell Snowden’s story and information in a favorable light. In that sense, one could argue that even though Snowden is exposing the truth, there is still a level of regulation at play in terms of what documents he discloses, and to whom he’ll tell his story.
Given that this is a collaboration week, we can have some great discussions about the effects of this scandal. Snowden cites his travels to Geneva as part of what prompted him to eventually speak out. He says, “much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.” What are some differences between the U.S. and Mexican governments? What did you think of the Snowden case/ government spy leaks from an international perspective? Do you think government regulation is a good thing, or should we be pro- cyber liberation?