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The 5th estate and Big brother

by on November 12, 2013

For the greater good?

It has become overall more expected of people to give up some of their privacy for higher purposes than the individual, namely in the interest of national security. Regulatory monitoring such as CCTV, GPS and data surveillance have all become almost conventional to most (Moore, n.d.). The notion of privacy has also diminished with the expansion of the internet which has facilitated surveillance as all actions are interconnected and more easily trackable. Edward Snowden a former CIA and NSA employee came out earlier this year revealing NSA monitoring excercises of the average citizen’s communication activities in order to target suspects (See Al Jazeera timeline here and interview with Snowden here). Is the action democratic if the intentions are? What security purposes does it fulfill?

Some argue that the increased gathering of information through intrusive techniques was what instigated WikiLeaks to some extent. It is now increasingly demanded of officials to make diplomatic and foreign affairs less covert. Until the birth of WikiLeaks in 2006 foreign affairs employees and ministers had only been held liable to their own governments. Now anybody with access to the internet can have access to what was previously classified documents.

Img. source Applegazette
wikileaks-logoSince its dawn WikiLeaks has attempted to harmonize free speech regulations across the world. Julian Assange has claimed it to be an instrument of high necessity in order to highlight the significance of free speech and deliverance of information that might become vital to not least political elections. According to him the global mainstream media is not sufficiently investigative, for unknown reasons but one can speculate: conflict of interests, laziness or pure lack of desire. Without information it is impossible for people to make briefed decisions, as the example shows, of documents leaking pre the Kenyan election, changing the outcome of it (see Assange interview below). WikiLeaks states the 19th clause on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” (United Nations)

Knowledge is power

Mass media is one of the core notions of the liberal democracy, without it there would be close to zero prospects of any form of transparency (Balkin, 1998). The emergence of WikiLeaks and other ‘leaks’-sites has showed the global community how knowledge truly is power. With new mediums such as these come entirely new demands and meanings of accountability and responsibility for governments and officials. As opposed to both state media and corporate media, WikiLeaks is intended as a neutral watchdog, supposedly free of bias and interests, thus publishing all information they acquire from whistleblowers unlike official media that would  have to consider its interests. WikiLeaks releases raw data without making any moral judgements on what is relevant to the civil domain or perform any journalistic editing to the material (Caryl, 2011). WikiLeaks can thus be seen as an instrument for good governance through the exposure of various foreign affairs cover ups that do belong in the public spectrum; misconduct within classified military operations, human right’s abuse and economic issues, to name a few.

Does it threaten state security?

Despite all the positive and not least democratic aspects on complete transparency to achieve good governance, it may come to affect state security. It does create a clash between the right to know and the duty to protect.

WikiLeaks first of all encourages government employees to share confidential material against legislation. This leads to another important question, we know that these whistleblowers are disloyal to their states, so where do their loyalties lie? Are they providing documents to WikiLeaks for the public’s greater good due to a specific concern, or try to damage the state? There are also continuous concerns regarding WikiLeaks’s damage or potential damage to state security, first and foremost U.S. state security – as it is the most frequent “target”.  Especially the Reykjavik diplomatic cable leak caused more of a political stir than previous leaks, perhaps because it touched on sensitive issues for governments other than the U.S. (Karhula, 2012). A lot of the material that is now published on WikiLeaks deserve to be public. Much of that information being public will assist in national security, for it is not only government security but security for the people. By knowing about terrorist threats or where a toxic gas leak has happened, they have the option of preparation and appreciatating risks on their own. Excessive secrecy can lead to an antagonistic and paranoid relationship between the state and civil society.

Assange himself does acknowledge that some secrets are legitimate, but does however not state whether they would be published on WikiLeaks nonetheless.

Julian Assange talking about the significance of Wikileaks at TEDTalks.

The governments may have more access to its citizen’s private lives, but the citizens certainly enjoy the same type of access to its state’s affairs. What privacy should be given up for the greater good and what are legitimate secrets? Just as citizen surveillance is supposably done for the better of the state, so is the increased knowledge of its citizens. Security does not necessarily mean secrecy.



Al Jazeera, Timeline of Edward Snowdens revelations, 2013

Balkin J, 1998, How mass media simulate political transparency, Yale University

Caryl C, 2011, The New York review of books: Why WikiLeaks changes everything, January 13

Karhula P, 2012, What is the effect of WikiLeaks for freedom of information?, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, October 5

Moore A. D., n.d., Draft: Privacy, Security and Government surveillance: WikiLeaks and the new accountability, University of Washington

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations


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  1. i will agree with you that the government control people ,by using this kind of technology ,which affects people freedom and limited their movement by feeling that some one watching them. however the excuse of the government, that they do that for public good and protect them from any threat which face the country can be accepted.
    the information is very clear and i like the writing style that you used as well as the topic is very poplar nowadays .

  2. kimchi86 permalink

    Thanks for your comment!
    I think it is important to distinguish between when surveillance is done for public good and when it is for the good of the government, as a facilitation of their work. For example, as Edward Snowden says in the interview that I linked to, that the NSA could track and listen into conversations of complete average citizens, because it is easier and less time consuming for them to just “tap” all lines. I think that a threat should be dealt with after it has been made.
    Keep up your good posts!

  3. karo1990 permalink

    This is a really good blog! However, I think you should also include some criticism of Wikileaks when you write a paper about this.
    Good job.

  4. This is a good blog entry, which presents the work of WikiLeaks and sets up the debate over secrecy and security very effectively. However, your point about the difference between state interests and the public interest comes through more clearly in your response to the first comment than in the body of you post. It would be nice to hear a bit more about your own thoughts on this issue. Have you reached a conclusion one way or the other? Perhaps focusing on a specific case would enable you to develop a deeper analysis.

    There are a few typographical errors, especially regarding the apostrophe. Please tidy up your text when revising it for inclusion in your portfolio.

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