WikiLeaks puts Net freedom ideology in question

Summary:"The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand--the largest anarchy that we have ever had."Google CEO Eric Schmidt uttered those words way back in April 1997 when he was then CTO of Sun Microsystems and alluding to how the Internet had emerged as the biggest driver of change.

"The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand--the largest anarchy that we have ever had."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt uttered those words way back in April 1997 when he was then CTO of Sun Microsystems and alluding to how the Internet had emerged as the biggest driver of change.

Thirteen years later, today, Schmidt's declaration holds as much truth as it did then. Throw in WikiLeaks and the "anarchy" has never been more chaotic.

The leaked diplomatic cables, carrying classified government papers including U.S. military reports and confidential dialogs between heads of states, have left the online community divided over whether the confidential documents should have been published.

Defending the need for WikiLeaks to push boundaries, spokesperson Julian Assange said: "Our goal is to have a just civilization... And the message is transparency...gaining justice with transparency.

"Before you can give any advice, any program about how to deal with the world, how to put the civil into civilization, how to gain influence on people--before you can have that program, first you have to understand what is actually going on," added Assange, who was once described as "Internet's freedom fighter".

Revelations from the leaked documents have opened more than a can of worms, creating tension between countries over what government heads had said about their foreign counterparts. The show played out even in Singapore, where local diplomats were quoted to have used words like "big fat loser", "incompetent" and "stupid" to describe some of its Asian neighbors.

Accurate or not, the comments have prompted at least one politician from Malaysia to demand an explanation from the Singapore government for "undermining its relationship with Malaysia".

Asked about the country's involvement in WikiLeaks, Singapore's foreign minister, George Yeo, said the 250,000 leaked e-mail messages reflected the views of U.S. diplomats and what they interpreted from conversations. "If you want to hear everything which others say behind your back and take offence at it, you'll be a very unhappy person," Yeo said.

That may be true but human ego is a funny thing, and when taken to a country level, even the most frivolous of gossip can carry the most negative effect on diplomatic ties. Devastating wars can be ignited simply from an exchange of words.

Elaborating on the impact WikiLeaks would have on diplomatic relations between countries, particularly the U.S., Yeo noted: "It is bad practice for such confidential communications to be leaked because it makes future confidential communications that much more difficult.

"I think it will have an impact on diplomatic communications where it involves American diplomats because, well, you can never be sure," he said. "So since you're not sure, you'll err on the side of safety and manage the risk."

It's ironic, isn't it? In his attempt to bring about more transparency, Assange may have created a regime where governments will now be less transparent and true opinions will be less forthright.

More importantly, the WikiLeaks saga has put into question how far freedom to information should be pushed. Should this freedom be exercised even if there were risks it could put a country's well-being in jeopardy and human lives at stake?

And does it mean that confidentiality, even between government heads, can no longer be promised in the Internet era? And what happens if this right to freedom violates someone else's right?

On ZDNet Asia's Facebook fanpage, reader Ewan Whosarmy noted: "In a free society, we're supposed to know the truth. But, in a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble."

I've always believed that everyone has the right to be free to live the life they want to live, but the extent of this right ends the second it infringes on someone's right to do likewise.

And I'm not completely convinced WikiLeaks hasn't encroached on that right.

Topics: Malaysia, CXO, Enterprise 2.0, Google, Government : US, Security, Singapore, Social Enterprise

About

Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 15 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings. Eileen majored i... Full Bio

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