Freedom of the Press and Wikileaks
The main questions addressed by this Aspen Ideas Festival panel yesterday was: Is Wikileaks legitimate journalism, and is it good or bad journalism? The question of legitimacy was largely by-passed in favor of the good-bad issue, although the panel did circle back to discuss whether or not prosecution of Wikileaks (and any newspapers publishing leaks) was appropriate. The panel consisted of James Fallows, Lawrence Lessig, Jeffrey Rosen, and Jonathan Zittrain.
There was some agreement about Assange’s recklessness in failing to distinguish between whistle-blowing and raw document dumps, and also with Rosen’s view that there is really no principled way to prosecute Wikileaks or the newspapers under the Espionage Act.
On the positive side, Fallows pointed out that Wikileaks does combat the general tendency in governments to suppose that people are better off not knowing what is really going on. Yet the ‘nihilist’ position that ‘all should be open’ has obvious problems.
Lessig described recent leaks as really being a tsunami, but thought it was ‘stupid’ of the government to retaliate against Web sites and publishers, like the music industry refusing a deal with Napster and destroying them out of spite.
Zittrain pointed out that 1 million people have security clearance, and that the government has been fortunate in many respects that there have been so few such incidents. (Perhaps he should have added ‘so far.’)
Steve Adler commented at question time that a panel of 25 year-olds might take a rather different view, but this suggestion was largely rejected. I tend to agree that a younger panel might have taken more of a ‘truth will out’ position, and been less squeamish about the methods employed.
What is certain, at least in my mind, is that the tradecraft of secrecy will never be the same again, and the Wikileaks affair is yet another reminder that the World Wide Web is still the Wild West.
Peter Jackson is chief scientist and vice president of Thomson Reuters, where he’s been since 1995. He has built a group of 40 research staff with expertise in the areas of document search, text and data mining, and machine learning. Jackson is also responsible for university collaboration with respect to joint research projects. His most recent book, Natural Language Processing for Online Applications, came out in a second edition in 2007. From 1992 to 1995, Jackson taught post-graduate classes in artificial intelligence and parallel computing at Clarkson University in New York and was a visiting professor at Singapore Polytechnic. In 1988, he moved to the US and became a principal scientist at McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratories. Before coming to the US, he taught in the Department of Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University from 1983 to 1988 and wrote the textbook Introduction to Expert Systems.