The flood of revelations from Wikileaks raises some difficult questions about data security and government secrecy. Some privacy activists might enjoy seeing technology “turn the tables” on a national surveillance state, exposing its secrets as indiscriminately as programs like warrantless wiretapping gathered up citizens’ data. But retaliation is inevitable: just as the shoe-bomber provoked new TSA rituals, those who want more surveillance of the internet will point to the leaked cables. As Ross Douthat argues, “WikiLeaks is at best a temporary victory for transparency, and it’s likely to spur the further insulation of the permanent state from scrutiny, accountability or even self-knowledge.” We can expect more security initiatives, more indiscriminate classification of documents, and perhaps even more undocumented communications about critical issues.
The discussion of Wikileaks tends to focus on either process (can government officials still communicate securely?) or substance (what do particular cables reveal about American policy?). Those two conversations ought to converge. As Felix Stalder notes, policy promoting an “Information Sharing Environment” may well have created the conditions for this breach:
There is an inherent paradox. Vast streams of classified records need to flow freely in order to sustain complex, distributed and time-sensitive operations. Yet, since the information is classified, it needs to flow within strict boundaries which cannot be clearly defined on a general level (after all, you never know what needs to get connected with what in advance), and it needs to flow through many, many hands. This creates the techno-organisational preconditions for massive amounts of information to leak out.
Stalder also reveals how a larger neoliberal policy framework saps the trust structures that are necessary to build solidarity and order in institutions: