Saturday, January 1, 2011

WikiLeaks will profoundly affect Computing in 2011

Happy New Year everyone.

In reading and listening to many of the online outlets discussing the significant stories in science and technology for 2010, WikiLeaks often comes up. The interesting issue for everyone, but especially those of us in the computing field, is the debate about whether WikiLeaks is a positive force in society or a destructive one. Your answer to this question flavors your opinion about the aggressive moves the US and others are taking against WikiLeaks personnel and equipment. Just today, the FBI in the US seized servers in the state of Texas after being led to them by IP information provided by Paypal who was not happy about being attacked.

The link I provide above for WikiLeaks may cease to exist at any time after I post this online. That says something.

WikiLeaks states on its site:

"WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices."

Do you agree? With their mission? Their tactics? Their results? Is their behavior a new Internet driven way to expose and fight injustice? Many people believe so and believe that they operate in the only way that they can, and that the strong reactions against them just prove that point. They point to the benefits of their actions in forcing discussion and consideration of topics that might otherwise be pushed to the side.

But many global governments do not agree at all. They view WikiLeaks as a threat to national security and in some cases have even called them terrorists. How much of their reactions are a knee jerk reaction to having communication control wrested from them in a new way?  How much is well founded anger based upon sensitive secrets and political maneuvers that we probably should not know? After all, "leaking" news is not a new phenomenon. In some cases the leaks are planned and orchestrated by governments. But not always.

The jury is out on this one. I confess I do not yet have a well formed opinion. This is a complicated subject. It is so heavily political that it his hard to untangle what data should be used for forming a judgement of the merits of WikiLeaks.  There are multiple layers of WikiLeaks actions, the subsequent counter actions of other entities, and the subsequent re-actions by WikiLeaks or its independent supporters to being attacked virtually and through legal processes. When a story goes viral on the Internet, even when confined to a specific community, then the cats are out of the bag and can't be put back in.

This is an unfolding story that will have important repercussions in 2011 for social issues in technology and computing. Because whatever happens to WikiLeaks will continue to have a strong outward ripple effect - how will other reporting agencies respond? With vigor, or with fear? Will they report more, and ever deeply into investigative journalism using the power of the Internet or will they self censor themselves?

I have not followed the leaks and societal repercussions enough to have formed an opinion about whether they are in fact spurious, significant, trivial, or just unclear because of all the behind the scenes machinations of governments. For example, I do recall that the US government was embarrassed by having some information revealed about how members of the Obama administration supposedly felt in private about other world leaders. Is this trivial? Who cares if the Secretary of State or the President (or someone else at a similar level) thinks that world leader so and so is a dork (I'm making that word up). We all hold private opinions of people we treat with respect because we feel we must. the revelation significant because people lose face in the global community where so much goes on behind closed doors and the public never knows about it until years later when an ex politician writes a memoir? (Sometimes thoughtful and fascinating and sometimes a self serving sleep inducing bore)

Computing technology has fueled this whole new take on the meaning and implications of free speech. Where to draw the lines and how to determine them?

Talk about crossing disciplines....

So I am convinced that some of the longest and more profound societal impacts will be outgrowths of the WikiLeaks events going on today. This is a story that will ripple outwards across the global pond in unforeseen ways.

I wish I could fast forward 12 months to this time next year and see what has happened. I dare to predict that the results on computing use will be profound, whether the average citizen is aware of it or not.

I hope 2011 is a peaceful and happy year for everyone and that you focus on what is most important in your life, not just what is in front of your face at any given moment.

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