Wikileaks: Terrorism or Freedom

I recall years ago local prosecutors in various cities were wringing their hands when reporters and private investigators were digging through dumpsters and garbage cans for private information on public officials.  This was before we kept our secrets on computers.  Many states passed laws saying that documents pulled from a sticky, smelly metal can on the curb was still private and could not be taken by strangers.

 These days our personal and national secrets are digital and stored on computer hard drives. All it takes is the click of a mouse to download private property and steal it.  The Wikileaks dump of stolen, secret government documents is the latest example and it's again causing some to speculate about how to prosecute the culprits and for what.

 Florida Congressman-elect Allen West wants the media censored for running stories about what is in the government documents stolen by someone and then made public by the Wikileaks website.  The logic, according to West, is that we are under attack and this time the weapon is the governments own secrets that were stolen and then put on the web.  He says members of the news media who are using those stolen documents to write or air news stories are enabling the thief and the website in their felonious deeds. 

 Instead, the editor of the New York Times, for instance, must be convinced the publishing of pilfered documents helps alter our view of public policy or reveals serious crimes against humanity or might reverse a serious wrong.  That is not the case here.  These stolen documents might be interesting, but the do not rise to the same standards as the Pentagon Papers.  The damage is more personal and even deadly to those who are working to help the U.S. fight the war on terror worldwide.

 If you believe that the classified information that was taken and then handed over to Wikileaks is stolen property of the U.S. government, then you have to believe that making it public for your own purposes, monetary or political, is akin to trafficking in stolen goods.  Julian Assange didn't steal the documents, but he is the “fence”.  He's the guy standing on the corner selling stolen watches or big screen TV's out of the trunk of his car.  Congressman-elect West believes the media is, at best, looking the other way as this stolen property is handed out and, at worst, reporters are also using this stolen information to make money selling newspapers or commercials.

Years ago, when I realized that anyone could drive up to my house and dig through my garbage to steal my secrets, I bought a shredder.  It is my responsibility to keep my info secure.  Terrorists want to hurt Americans and stealing secrets is a way to do it.  If the government wants to protect its information, it has to do a better job.  It is also up journalists, who print or broadcast or post this stolen information, to hold themselves to a higher standard and live up to the trust given to them by the Constitution.



Categories: Becker’s Digital Notebook