The past few months have witnessed an elaborate media focus on the Wikileaks exposure of some diplomatic cables sent from US Embassies to US Department of Defense. I will not debate on the good or evil of this action. It is completely an issue is subjective to the people reviewing it. While some people have hailed Julian Assange as a hero, other have labeled him as a criminal who has thwarted international peace and security.
However the action that deserves a rebuttal is the fact that various global organizations have reacted to this website very negatively. Amazon Web Distribution services have withdrawn its DNS services for the site making it difficult to access (though the above problem has been circumvented by using their direct IP and also via various mirror sites over the internet). PayPal has withdrawn its services to the said organization citing “violation of its usages”. And this is where that we must stop and ponder.
If the same thing would have been done for a website which violates the moral fiber of the society, then perhaps a treatment as grave as above would have been justified. But at this juncture for a website that simply publishes (and I emphasize here the word publishes) “confidential information”, the treatment meted out to Assange and his tribe seems a tad too unfair.
Often in life we have to make a lot of choices between What’s right and What’s easy. And the choice is not an easy one. Concerns such as Amazon and PayPal may have their own professional, social and financial reasons for their conduct towards Assange. (I am of course not going into the treatment given to Assange himself as I feel it is out of scope of the discussion). When the internet was first conceptualized, its foundations were based on the principles of reliable and secure communications. But over the years, Internet has gone from the meek data ether to a gigantic roaring entity-an entity which shapes the very structure and function of some of the biggest economies of the world. It has transcended its scope from the usage of the educational elite and has become integrated in the daily lives of every literate human being in the world.
And that is where the paradox occurs. The internet has come to symbolize the free world. It represents the voice of the people who are allowed to speak up – a form of democracy hitherto unseen. People could post pictures and have them scooped up by journalists all over the world in seconds. It had become the champion of the rights of oppressed people all over the world. Countries like Burma, China and North Korea choked this new voice of freedom using censorship. And people in the West would feel pity for the people of this county when they contrasted their fate with that of these people. Any county which truly and completely supported the people’s voice would never dream of throttling it. As Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg address: Democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”
Having strongly and correctly established the role of internet as the voice of people, then we must ask ourselves the question, “Why are the backbone providers of internet so eager to snuff out Wikileaks from the internet map?” Is it because Wikileaks has transgressed an invisible line of some inexplicable and illegible social conduct that guides the internet. If that is the case then why is it that so many websites which features human rights abuse worse than some “boring” diplomatic cables are allowed to prosper over the web. Or is it because the Government is afraid of truly granting transparency to the people. If that is so, then the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln are rendered ironic in the truest sense of the word.
When Kevin D Mitnick was incarcerated on many counts of computer hacking related offense, the internet community was shocked and offended but no one questioned the verdict. Yes information is a intellectual property and gaining unlawful access of the same is nothing but theft. For record, I would like to state that the diplomatic cables of a county are the secret property of a country and unlawfully stealing them falls under the purview of a crime. But for Wikileaks, which simply publishes information that it receives via people (who are probably disillusioned with the working of the machinery so much so that they take this drastic step), we cannot but agree that they are not committing any offense doing the same. People may argue about the semantics of my previous sentences as the impacts of the nature of these leaks are yet to be seen. But till something drastic happens as a consequence of these leaks, we have to give Wikileaks the benefit of doubt.
And this is where the internet giants are at fault. You cannot simply boot out a client because of pressure of the government. When we enter into a business deal, there is an implied covenant that must be honored by both parties. As long as Wikileaks doesn’t publish any information that is offensive or deemed harmful to the society, it cannot be denied the rights of hosting and usage. This is where I think that Amazon and PayPal and bank of America has wronged Wikileaks.
We are the future of the world. People passing out from the hallowed halls of this department will go on to become the architects and craftsmen of the future of the internet and computing. But even then, at some point of our lives, we may have to face this ethical dilemma. Whether to face the unpleasant truth or to simply dust it off under the carpet to let posterity handle it. But being students of Jadavpur University, we mustn’t let our peers and bosses dominate over our sense of what is right and what is wrong. We should exert our best moral judgment and ensure that the truth sees the light of the day. This may be easier said than done as the path of truth is never the pleasant one exhibit A being Wikileaks. But even so, we should never allow ourselves to make a easy choice that will be a thorn in our conscience for all eternity.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." – John 8:32 The Holy Bible