The following is a response to an article I came across a few minutes ago, entitled, WikiLeaks: Not Open, Simply the New Closed in The Stanford Review. The article misses the point in 2 main areas, and demonstrates a weak understanding of the WikiLeaks framework.

I begin with the main points argued in the article.

WikiLeaks was created quite literally in Wikipedia’s image. Users could post information and edit it in a wiki forum that possessed an interface nearly identical to that of Wikipedia. In fact, a statement on its 2008 webpage boasted, “What Wikipedia is to the encyclopedia, Wikileaks is to leaks.”

But at the end of 2009, WikiLeaks changed its policies—it abolished the Wikipedia model. Today, one may find on its official website the following statement: “Unlike Wikipedia, random readers cannot edit our source documents.”

Instead, users now deposit information in an electronic drop box, the contents of which are screened for publication. Who reviews the submissions and decides what to publish and when to publish it?

When Julian Assange and a core group of employees have the sole say in what reaches the site and when—and thus in what reaches the media and when—the information sharing is not open.

What might the U.S. diplomatic cable leakage have looked like on the old WikiLeaks? The anonymous possessor of the cables would have uploaded them to the site himself. Assange would probably have made a public statement to the media directing them to the cables. In both this scenario and that of reality, the media ultimately obtained the information. If the result is the same, true openness does little to hinder the stated mission of WikiLeaks.

Response:

This was an interesting read, thank you. I think there were some short-sighted points made, however.

One thing that distinguishes a site like Wikipedia from a peer reviewed journal, for instance, is that one can have relative confidence in the accuracy of the latter. A truly wiki-based framework creates a pool of data that are not verified for accuracy. With the review process, one obtains the added element of legitimacy, assuming that we trust Wikileaks’ methods. To date, however, the issue of credibility has never arisen precisely because no documents have been leaked (on the new model) prior to verification. Note that there is no question of the authenticity of the cables, for instance.

The other thing that is lost in a truly open system (like the one you allude to here) is harm minimization. This aspect is crucial for the purpose of protecting innocent parties, and in some cases, even for purposes of protecting guilty parties from unjust punishment (to say that one should be punished for breaking a moral code of conduct is not to say that this individual should be subjected to the worst possible punishment; so Wikileaks might, for instance, avoid publishing the names of individuals currently engaged in an under cover operation if this would be life-threatening).

In sum, it would be quite irresponsible, indeed reckless, to operate on a fully open system.

What would the cables have looked like on the open system? I have a more pressing question for you. What would the Iraq or Afghan War Logs look like in the absence of harm minimization–in the absence of name redaction? Think it through.

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