Balancing on an edge


Laura Scott sits on the fulcrum between freedom of speech and national security

Wikileaks has recently unearthed yet more controversial documents in the form of 250,000 cables with sensitive information from the USA on global politics.

Few people will have been particularly shocked that North Korea’s rogue policies, particularly with their enthusiasm for nuclear warheads, had “frustrated” the Chinese government.

However, the contents of the other cables, of which only a few hundred have been released so far, have caused significantly more conflict, with the US government claiming that the leaking of such sensitive information is a crime, and threatening to prosecute as a result. So far in its four year history, Wikileaks has avoided successful prosecution.

This begs an interesting question, where does freedom of the press end and national security begin? The contents of the cables seem divided broadly in two themes: there are the awkward cover-ups and embarrassing statements by politicians, that perhaps are rightfully revealed to the public so that some semblance of transparency with the voters can be maintained.

But it is at the expense of the second category: of secret and highly sensitive information, which I honestly feel should not be available to the average law-abiding citizen, let alone to those who might use it to undermine a nation’s security. This includes the positioning of US spies and on a previous occasion, according to Sarah Palin, even the release of the identities of “more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban.”

With this in mind, what is the real purpose of revealing this information? Wikileaks boasts that it provides an “innovative, secure and anonymous” way for independent sources to provide information. While the content is screened, this nonetheless means that we have no way of knowing where it came from or what the person leaking the information hoped to accomplish by it.

Thus some, such as Vladimir Putin and President Ahmadinejad of Iran have openly begun suspecting “political purposes” in the release of the cables, by some party or state wishing to undermine the policies or foreign relations of the countries most compromised by the leak. Also, because of the sheer scale of information publicised on this occasion, some have begun to ask what Wikileak’s own agenda is. They could have the capacity to start a war. Might they want to? In this game that “reveals suppressed and censored injustices” who is watching the watchmen?

However, it seems that since the controversy over the cables began, some influential companies have slowly started to weigh up the actions of Wikileaks and judge them unfavourably.

Both Paypal and Amazon have withdrawn their support for the site, under some pressure from the US authorities. There are those who argue that freedom of the press is crucial to maintaining a true democracy, and that Wikileaks is justified in its actions.

Yet this comes at a great cost. If we want our politicians to act with greater transparency, that is a battle worth fighting. But it is not worth doing at the expense of the blanket publication data sacrificing confidential information that is crucial to many countries’ diplomatic relations and security.

While the freedom of the press is crucial, we must also rely on our media to apply that power with responsibility.


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