Wiki, IV

Whatever else he has accomplished, Julian Assange through WikiLeaks has opened for examination important questions about the new journalism and the appropriate use of the Internet. Is Wiki a publisher? Is it practicing journalism? Does it create more problems of invasion of privacy than transform an overly secret society to one more open and thus more democratic?

"WikiLeaks changes everything,” Christian Caryl wrote recently in The New York Review of Books. The sheer volume of its uncurated disclosures of secret information of government and business is unprecedented. Caryl concluded that he didn’t “see coherently articulated morality, or immorality, at work here at all; what I see is an amoral, technocratic void.” One’s view of WikiLeaks may vary among generations for that very reason — the younger being more sympathetic to Assange’s views. My older generation sees the younger’s downloading music and movies as stealing from the Internet, and many also see Wiki's disclosures as theft — dangerous theft at that, as it might unnecessarily hurt people through its indiscriminate use.

Question: If Wiki's leaks are crimes by the young military leaker, and perhaps by his older Wiki co-conspirator, is the institutional New York Times a conspirator with Wiki in that latter category? Caryl again: The web is "the most permissive information medium we have yet to invent," and it leads "from the ploddingly analogue to the explosively digital experience.” Caryl notes that technology has outpaced ethics in this debate. As a result, Assange’s actions might lead us to a keener, more relevant calculation of the moral and legal consequences of the unauthorized dissemination of secret information. That would be a welcome result.


Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington attorney, author and literary agent.