Well, speaking of censorship, I just have to comment on the ongoing Wikileaks bruhaha. In case you haven’t been following, Wikileaks—a well known media organization that seeks to obtain and disseminate secret information from governments, companies, etc.—obtained and published a large number of secret cables from the U.S. Department of State. This followed hot on the heels of other releases related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obviously this is a huge embarrassment for the U.S. government, and now, since releasing the files, Wikileaks has been on the receiving end of a concerted effort to shut the site down. It has been attacked with ‘denial of service’ attacks (possibly initiated by our government), it has been exiled from various hosting providers and DNS services (particularly those based in the U.S.), and many of our Congressmen are clamoring to ‘throw the book’ at Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Some are even calling for him to be charged with treason—a charge that could possibly result in the death penalty.
I don’t much like Assange, and I don’t have any particular affinity for Wikileaks as an organization either. I’m all for transparency in government but, having said that, there is a legitimate interest in keeping some things secret for national security reasons. I think that media outlets should use some discretion. But we must put blame where blame is due: Wikileaks is a media outlet, and the United States has a long and storied tradition of free press. Media outlets are protected under U.S. law from prosecution for publishing leaked information. In other words, Wikileaks may have done something immoral, but it has not done anything illegal. Even if it had, it is hosted in Switzerland and is therefore not subject to U.S. law anyway!
Crimes were committed here. The people who stole secret information and gave it to Wikileaks have mishandled classified information; that is a crime, and the culprits should be charged and prosecuted. There might even be an argument for charging the leakers with treason, although I think that’s probably overkill. But Wikileaks, like other outlets that published information from these leaks (like, say, the New York Times), is immune from prosecution under our well-established First Amendment media protections.
One final point: Internet providers like Amazon.com that have exiled Wikileaks from their servers have every right to do so, but the government has no right to coerce them to—which I am sure is what’s really going on behind the scenes. Bear in mind that over the last several months our government has engaged in unprecedented domain name seizures and web site shutdowns (under the flimsy guise of copyright enforcement). Amazon.com and others know that the government can pull the plug on them in a heart-beat without any kind of due process these days (‘change’ indeed). It is therefore unlikely that these providers will stand firm if/when a government agency, ahem, encourages them to kick something like Wikileaks off their server.
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