Wikileaks and radical transparency

The one thing that the internet does more than anything else, is that it brings the cost of distributing information to zero, no matter how far you are distributing it. We’re only now, I think, starting to be aware of the consequences, let alone learn how to deal with them.

A great example of this disruptive power of the net as a publishing platform emerged this weekend with a further release of confidential communications from US Embassies, on the website Wikileaks.

Most of the damage will be in terms of embarrassment and in personal relationships rather than security threats. Indeed, I’m not entirely convinced of the worth of this activity by Wikileaks – although I suspect that the interest here is less in the message and more in the medium.

One thing that struck me when listening to some of the commentary on the television news yesterday was how many times it was said that there was nothing new here, that everyone within diplomatic circles and the attendant press knew all this stuff anyway, it just wasn’t reported on.

That really annoyed me.

It goes back to the point that the blogger Paul Staines, AKA Guido Fawkes, often makes about lobby journalism and its negative effect on our democracy. I’m sure we all have our own views on Staines’ work and his politics, but I totally am behind him in his efforts to report on what used to be the unreportable. The idea that there is a cosy club in Westminster that decides what we proles can and can’t read really gets my goat.

It turns out the same thing was happening in the world of international diplomacy too. ‘Everyone’ knew that the Saudis hated the Iranians, apparently, but nobody thought to write about it in case somebody got upset.

In steps the internet, and now any can publish to a massive, world-wide audience. People without the bonds of whatever gentlemen’s agreement exists can get hold of information and put it into the public domain – then sit back and watch the crisis unfold.

It is in this radical transparency that I think the effects of the open publishing and data movements will be most keenly felt. Not a state-sponsored publication of how much a government department spends on paper clips.

I’m not saying that this will always be a good thing. Indeed, for government to work effectively there must be, where appropriate, methods of working in an environment which protects secrecy.

Incidents like this will also result in governments shutting down even more, becoming less open, and locking down their communications channels to prevent similar incidents.

But if there is one thing that is becoming abundantly clear, security will always be breached, firewalls hacked, data leaked. Computer security is an illusion, and a potentially dangerous one.

A quote I find myself repeating over and over at the moment is from Scott McNealey, who in 1999 when still CEO of Sun Microsystems said “You have no privacy. Get over it.”

Act like you have no protection and you’ll find that is the best protection you can get.

Why I still read newspapers

Despite being an avid reader of RSS feeds – not just from blogs, but other sites like newspapers, and other new organisations – I still get a newspaper every day. I guess this runs somewhat contrary to the idea that the use of web technology to deliver news will eventually mean the death of the printed press.

So why do I still buy newspapers, when all the content I am interested in is available free online?

Well, there is the obvious thing about how nice it is to have a newspaper in your hands, sticky ink and all. But for me, the main thing is that having the paper in front of me makes me read stuff that I’m not necessarily interested in.

One of the main things on here is the business news. It’s actually quite interesting, who is buying who and what’s going on in the stock markets and stuff. I don’t really understand it, but it’s still good reading. Now, if I am reading a newspaper online, I wouldn’t go near the business section, because it isn’t one of my main interests.

Annoy the Daily Mail

The Daily M*il is currently running a promotion to boost sales and thereby increase the net amount of bile and hatred in the world. They are giving £10,000 to each of 50 charities nominated by readers. 25 of these will be picked by a panel of “experts” (probably BNP activists, Melanie Philips, Norman Tebbitt and Chris Woodhead), but the other 25 (they claim) will be chosen by members of the public, drawn at random. Now, presumably the Mail are expecting that the winners will be people like the RNLI, Guide Dogs for the Blind and the National Trust. However, if enough people nominate (say) the Refugee Support Council or Stonewall, there has got to be a chance the the Daily Mail will end up giving them the money. Wouldn’t that be great? 10 grand of Paul Dacre’s money to asylum seekers. Just think about it for a second… You’re smiling, aren’t you?
You can even do it without having to buy a copy of the Mail (which saves having to give them any of your cash). Go on – doing this will make the world a slightly nicer place, it won’t cost you anything and there is a chance it could really annoy the Daily Mail. Do you have a better way to spend 10 minutes of your time?

Click here.