A Simpol take on ‘BBC Any Questions’ – 17/12/10

To leak or not to leak?

One of the questions raised in last week’s “Any Questions?” was “Should bloggers and leakers have absolute freedom of expression on the internet?”.

Issues that were raised regarding this question were certain risks that “WikiLeaks” could pose to politicians and people, the benefits of knowledge entering the public domain through “WikiLeaks”, transparency in the government and the question of who is to draw the line and where it is to be drawn. How can things that need to be kept secret, be kept secret and how can secrets that need to be revealed, be revealed?

Censorship is a complex issue and trying to find a clear-cut answer to this leads to philosophical debates on different levelled viewpoints. Due to this I will only write about the direct beneficial and non-beneficial effects of freedom of expression.

It is not certain whether “WikiLeaks” is censored or not, but according to readings that I have done, it is impossible to censor “WikiLeaks”. According to Nicolas Christin, associate director for the Information Networking Institute (INI) full censorship of “WikiLeaks” cannot be attained due to the distributed technology of the internet. The same appears to apply to the internet in general.

I believe that freedom of expression is a result of and a path to open-source democracy. It is an essential path to lead a way to changes in democracy and society. In the case of Simpol especially, freedom of expression is important in order to spread awareness and information about the current state of the world, as well as to suggest reasons for current issues and how changes can be made possible with the implementation of simultaneous policies.

As a Simpol adopter, I believe that absolute freedom of expression for bloggers and leakers is essential, since this is an essential part of open-source democracy. The internet enables us to share information that the mainstream media often ignores and it enables us to organise protests and share ideas. “WikiLeaks” has, for example, provided us with important information about China’s attitude towards North Korea. The main benefit of “WikiLeaks”, I believe, might not so much be its content per se, but rather the effects that it has on the relationship between the government and the people. Freedom of expression on the internet is a way of reclaiming control of our decisions and putting democracy back into our hands. As Laurie Penny stated in tonight’s show “…the difference that needs to be drawn is the government needing private space and the government being private space.” The government cannot be a private body since it is meant to be accountable to the people. “WikiLeaks” and blogging could thus be seen as means to claim our voice back. The more information is public, the more we, the people, are in control and will be able to fight for changes that benefit us, as opposed to those that are purely for the benefit of big business.

An important question that needs to be considered though, is how transparent is too transparent – where should the line be drawn? I think that freedom of expression should exist in a way that does not cause harm to anyone on a personal level. Since it is not possible to have a general effective censor on the internet, I believe that people wishing to express themselves on this medium should be able to know for themselves where to draw the line as a result of common sense, respect and human kindness.

The main conclusion that can be drawn is that yes, absolute freedom of expression should be warranted for bloggers and leakers. Freedom of expression is a path toward open-source organisation. Without the freedom of expression on the internet, Simpol might not have been able to be developed. However, what needs to be borne in mind is that when leaking information or blogging, we should always have our own censor switched on in our mind and heart.

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