The Thing About Wikileaks
Hahah, I don’t know anything about Wikileaks. I’m not even sure how to parse this, at all. On the one hand, yeah, I understand the need for a nation to have the ability to keep some of its operations secret. That makes sense. But it’s not like what’s turning up on Wikileaks is “Here’s where are special forces all hang out after a hard day of shooting.” It’s all stuff like, “Yeah, the government has been handing prisoners over to people who we know will torture them. Also, did you know about the secret war we’ve been waging in Yemen?”
It’s hard to be a “patriot” and defend the government when the government is engaging in a war that I think is wrong on basically every level: morally wrong in the first place, ideologically untenable in the second, and fundamentally impracticable in the third.
Then, the government’s push to keep the Wikileaks info off the internet — that’s disturbing. My friend Malia spent a lot of time in China, and if you want to talk about why it is that social reform in China is so problematic, why there’s no mass movement to reject oppression, the answer is that the Chinese government controls all the information. Even the internet. So, when the US Government starts pressuring businesses into not hosting Wikileaks on their servers, or not giving them access to their donations…that’s really worrisome.
All liberties, you know, are given up in the name of security. Every time; it’s impossible, right down to the bottom, to have a law that protects you for which you have not made a sacrifice in liberty. And so all oppressive laws have always been put in place with popular consent because they have, in some way, been sold as security measures.
Now, Anonymous — a group of hackers, I think, but SECRET hackers, so I don’t know whether or not they look like the hackers in Hackers — is attacking back, briefly shutting down websites for Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal (for their refusal to process donations to wikileaks). They’re apparently gearing up for an attack on Amazon (so, obviously, buy your Christmas books now). So far, I don’t think they’ve caused any major disruptions, per se, but it does start to bring up some interesting questions: namely, is this the first real infowar that’s happening?
I’d always figured that, when major political or social changes happened, most people kind of didn’t notice them. They look dramatic and catastrophic when you read about them in history books, but for the average person living at the time, just going about their life, it would have been this bit in the news, then that bit, then a year or so later and you look around and realize you’re living in a different world. How much of the paranoid visions of cyberspace, of commerce transcending political borders, of information as military action that guys like Gibson and Doctorow and Stephenson and Barry are actually happening, right now?
Shit, I don’t know. In the end, I’m not sure it really matters. If America splits up into a series of corporate fiefdoms with only a nominal government, all the while its infrastructure is plagued by angry cyber-cowboys, how different is my life going to be? I still have to eat. I’m still learning to play the guitar. If the internet disappears, I can always write on paper, with a pen; it’s not like I haven’t already got plenty.
I do wonder, sometimes, about the idea of privacy. Obviously, no one wants their privacy invaded. We guard it, for REASONS, plainly. But the root of the idea that we’ve got constitutionally-protected privacy is that, should the government ever become unacceptably tyrannical, we’d need to be able to wage secret war on it. That’s what privacy from a political standpoint is — whenever someone says, “The government is invading my privacy,” what they’re saying is, “The government is interfering with my ability to wage secret war against them if I need to.” Because all other invasions of privacy are practically irrelevant (with the except of trade secrets, I guess, but those aren’t actually constitutionally protected).
I don’t LIKE the idea of being observed all the time by the government, because then they have more information about me than I do about them. But obviously, if all of their observations on everyone were public — if everyone were being monitored all the time by EVERYONE…well, it’s creepy. But is it practically that bad? I don’t want people being able to watch me on the toilet, but that’s just because I grew up believing that toilet-related activities should be done in private. If there had never been any privacy in the first place, what WOULD I be ashamed of letting people see? If everyone were watched by everyone, what shameful thing might I be doing that there weren’t at least a million other people doing, also?
It makes me wonder if the value of privacy is basically just illusory, and we’re only worried about it because when we lose it, it’s lost asymmetrically — we lose privacy to the government when the government spies on us, or to a corporation when they monitor our internet habits in order to make advertisements that better circumvent our decision-making processes; but there’s never a corresponding loss of privacy on behalf of the spy. The asymmetric loss of privacy creates an unacceptable power dynamic; but a catastrophic, symmetrical loss of privacy?
I’m not completely sure that would be so bad.