While ongoing data dumps of confidential US documents by Wikileaks puts the United States at a sharp disadvantage in terms of diplomatic leverage, US State Department cables also offer the world a far less filtered view of where foreign leaders actually stand on some very sensitive issues. Consequently, world leaders have grown tired of Julian Assange’s revolt to the point they are trying to shutdown Wikileaks by any means possible, including attempts by countries like Sweden to knockout Wikileaks servers. Most effectively, pressure on financial service providers like Mastercard, Visa, and Paypal has left Wikileaks cut off from its donators. In response, Wikileaks supporters have mirrored the site’s content a thousand times over and attacked these companies. In short, the governments of the world and the internet community are headed toward a third world war, which will not be fought on soil, but rather, in cyberspace.
Although there will likely be free speech implications to the Wikileaks crackdown for the internet community, it is important to remember Wikileaks is publishing secure, stolen US documents. In fact, Wikileaks actively seeks out stolen US property and encourages public servants to commit espionage. Quite frankly, this must have consequences. Up to this point, the governments of the world have been unwilling, as well as unable, to properly regulate and police the internet, so efforts to control Wikileaks are going to feel extreme. Incidents like the Wikileaks fiasco will eventually lead to regulation where internet speech receives the same treatment as real world speech. Hopefully, the standards will be built on the principles known in freer societies like the United States. On the other hand, the characterization of Wikileaks as an anarchist, terrorist organization is probably a little too extreme, or atleast very premature. After all, the whistleblower site is seeking government accountability and transparency, not the end of government.
In an unfortunate turn of events, the actions of Wikileaks will likely encourage oppressive crackdowns on speech and discourage greater governmental transparency in the mid-term. The global internet community may well also see far more action against the Worldwide Web taken by more authoritarian governments and leaders. The often overly sensitive, psychologically insure nature of such governments and leaders generally translates into hardliner stances when threats arise. The inherit lack of security associated with the internet only intensifies this impulse to control the flow of information. Unless a global response to properly, and effectively, regulate the dark side of internet can be mustered, free speech will truly be at risk on a global scale in the long-term. Ironically, as more groups and individuals push back against some government influence over the free web, they invite actual oppression.
To some, the actions against Wikileaks by Sweden are signs that world governments seek to control and undermine free speech on the internet. Like any other endeavor where balance, i.e. freedom versus regulation, is lacking, the internet will experience growing pains in the form of rebellion. In its current state, however, the lawless nature of the Web only invites catastrophe and oppression. The relatively benign actions of Sweden may be unsavory, as well as quite brash, but they are far better than some of the impending alternatives created by anarchy. As in the real world, which we must remember even the internet is supported by concrete technology, governments can only ensure freedoms when they have the power to police and regulate in order to prevent abuse and oppression, i.e. they must be able to govern.
That said, the actions against Wikileaks are a weak, frantic scramble to takedown revealing communiqués before the world can fully digest the revelations. Like a teenager trying to delete an embarrassing photograph or a poorly edited blog comment, it is not going to happen. The world is learning a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to diplomacy; some exchanges are simply embarrassing while others will undermine the status of foreign leaders and harm ties between different nations. Whatever the consequences, the world will look to the failure of the US to protect its secure documents and use that fact as leverage. The actions of Wikileaks have directly hurt the United States, but the entire International Community feels the fallout of these data dumps. The internet community should not be so naÃ¯ve to think such behavior will go unchallenged. Accordingly, Wikileaks and its allies are only beginning to taste the consequences of its actions.