One of the most remarkable events of the year 2010 was the publication of thousands of american secret documents by the whistle-blower Wikileaks.
In the latest delivery were published thousands of the State Department cables in which are reported a lot about the gossips and assessments by US diplomats of world leaders and their policies. A double-edged sword that poses challenges to diplomacy, transparency and freedom of speech.
On the diplomatic side, the leaked documents have caused some embarrassments to the US officials but no apparent real harm. The leaked documents have been compared by some to the Pentagon papers. I think there is a big difference with those because the Pentagon Papers revealed the fact that the then US administration was involved in secret actions that were often the opposite of its stated public policy. Whilst actual leaked cables show that the US administration is pursuing the quite same policies it has stated publicly.
One of the other teachings is the analysis of policies and some political leaders, sometimes in nice metaphors, that US diplomats send to their headquarters. From now on, when I’ll hear a US diplomat “praising” political leaders or “encouraging” failed governments to pursue their development agenda, well I’d know he’s just being “diplomatic”. No more.
Wikileaks publication of cable documents and both Irag and Afghanistan war logs earlier have given transparency all its signification. By giving the facts, raw facts, as they are treated and not as they are presented, common citizens are being empowered and urged to think before they give blank checks to their leaders. Governments accountability increases with the chance of “being leaked”. As the saying goes: “The people should not be afraid of the governments, rather the governments should be afraid of people”.
Another issue that has been highlighted by the publication of the cables is the one related to freedom of speech on the internet. Indeed, some private companies decided to “play” with the principles of Rule of Law and freedom of expression by ousting wikileaks servers like Amazon did, or suspending its donations-collecting like PayPal did, or blocking its credit card like MasterCard did. Those decisions have been made on the basis that the site “was engaged in illegal activities” despite the fact that wikileaks has not been charged with any crime nor hast it been convicted by any court.
Amazon, PayPal and MasterCard have, de facto, decided what is good to be published or not. It should not be.
In fine, I think Wikileaks and alike do more good than harm. And if governments want to avoid embarrassments and/or damaging spills, their best (and only?) defense would be to act justly and fairly.