Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on Wikileaks.org with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.
It seems that half the material now in WikiLeaks’ possession is about private corporations, not governments.
The question, then, becomes: Is anything secret? Even as private individuals worry about Facebook providing their information to advertisers and about Google tracking their moves, employees of governments and corporations are sending information to WikiLeaks. Perhaps Julian Assange will be arrested somewhere and extradited to Sweden. Perhaps not. If so, will WikiLeaks survive? If not, does that really matter? Will some other organization emerge from the web as a distribution point?
Can the genie be put back in the bottle?
Here’s the conclusion of an essay by Aaron Bady that’s been getting a bit of buzz recently:
According to his essay, Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.