I am cited today in the Montreal Gazette and Global News in an article where I helped provide the journalist with a simplified view of what the public should know about Wikileaks. My comments appear at the start and end of the articles.
However, what do I think about Wikileaks itself and its recent actions in releasing the diplomatic cables?
Overall I am very much in favor of press freedom. I think responsible journalists should be able to ethically release leaked material, where in the professional judgment of themselves and their editor the public interest would served, and where there would be more benefit than harm.
In this context, serving the public interest would mostly mean revealing wrongdoing. Harms can include damaging the ability of people to speak freely in future for fear of reprisal, compromising negotiations, fueling resentment, or putting people in jeopardy. In the Wikileaks case, the harms of dumping all the cables stand to be very substantial, and we haven't yet seen evidence of systematic wrongdoing being revealed. In any open society, there remains a need for people to communicate confidentially for many very good reasons.
The key is that professional judgment must be employed. If Wikileaks took the time to read through all the cables and discovered patterns of wrongdoing, and then, carefully ensured they released only specific documents that expose this wrongdoing while avoiding consequent net harms, then one could argue that they would be behaving responsibly.
Their current approach is not, in my opinion responsible. It is over-zealous and reckless. Where will it stop? If somebody leaked to them a large number of government employee personnel and medical files, for example, would they just as zealously release them? Where are they going to draw the line? It will be impossible to stop employees from leaking confidential data (e.g. using cell phone cameras, memory sticks, etc.), so the onus has to be on journalists or quasi-journalistic organizations like Wikileaks to behave with professional responsibility.
All professions have ethical standards. Many of these involve a duty to respect confidentiality. I will have no respect for Wikileaks until they adopt much more well-thought-out ethical practices.
An article I like that expresses much the same opinion appeared recently in the Globe and Mail. It's title is Wikileaks is Gossip not Whistleblowing.