Clay Shirky's Nuanced Position on WikiLeaks


I've been unable to nail down precisely why I don't like how WikiLeaks is releasing hidden, secret, classified, and other categories of U.S. government information. I don't believe the United States deserves the shroud of secrecy that protects incompetent, illegal, and malicious acts; neither do I trust Julian Assange's motives, presentation, or redaction. Every time I try to talk about the issue, it's like a life-or-death game of "paper or plastic bags" at the supermarket.

Thankfully, Clay Shirky has laid bare the cognitive dissonance and teased apart distinctly different ideas that are being lumped into single categories:

As Tom Slee puts it, "Your answer to 'what data should the government make public?' depends not so much on what you think about data, but what you think about the government." My personal view is that there is too much secrecy in the current system, and that a corrective towards transparency is a good idea. I don't, however, believe in pure transparency, and even more importantly, I don't think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.

I am conflicted about the right balance between the visibility required for counter-democracy and the need for private speech among international actors. Here's what I'm not conflicted about: When a government can't get what it wants by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is to accept that it can't get what it wants.

Photo by Joi Ito via Creative Commons.