Friday, September 02, 2011

The Horns of a Moral Dilemma

[Wikileaks] last week released more than 120,000 of its cache of diplomatic cables, with almost no redactions to protect the identity of informants and other individuals. The huge scale of the release, compared with 20,000 cables disclosed in the past nine months, prompted fierce criticism from the Australian government and former US state department spokesman PJ Crowley.


WikiLeaks [is conducting an online poll of its Twitter followers], which it said favoured disclosure at a ratio of 100 to one, [which may] pave the way for imminent disclosure of the remaining material from its cable archive.


The majority of cables published in the past week by WikiLeaks were unclassified but the site released the full archives, including confidential and secret cables, from Sweden and Australia.


In a lengthy statement posted online, WikiLeaks said publishing its full cache of cables was necessary because an encrypted file containing the whole database was available online, and the password was in the public domain. It said the Guardian was responsible for this security breach, due to a password published in the Guardian's book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, published in February 2011.

UK Guardian

I suppose that means that Wikileaks decided it was necessary to release the files in order not to be scooped by someone else. I’m not sure that’s the best reason. But why on earth would the Guardian publish the password?

I’m of two minds about this. Without secrecy, people and plans attempting to actually help other people could be in grave danger, and others may decide it’s not worth the risk. On the other hand, without secrecy, people who are doing harmful things are exposed for the betterment of all. I’m not sure I want to live in a world of total honesty, I guess. On the other hand, if exposing plots, informants and all, can bring an end to secret government dealings, perhaps there’s a “collateral damage” that is acceptable. If thousands, or even millions, of people's lives are spared by the exposure of a few sacrificial lambs, is that okay? This is the classic moral problem presented in psychology: do you push the fat man off the overpass to deflect the car that is headed for a group of workers? What if it's headed for a group of children, would that make a difference?

Life is full of rocks and hard places.

Anyway, Julian Assange's days are numbered.

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