In 2010 (then) Private Bradley Manning copied and released thousands of classified documents to the website Wikileaks. Wikileaks, a website run by Julian Assange is notable for leaking all kinds of government cables (diplomatic messages) to the public despite the governments efforts to prevent it. Being the largest government leaks to date, the incident gained a lot of media attention and a large amount of backlash was generated by the content of the files including character reports on foreign politicians, details on government projects that were kept secret for many years and most notably a video involving U.S soldiers firing upon journalists in Baghdad.
A freedom of information act was filed in order to obtain the video prior to Bradley Manning’s leaks but was delayed. As a result, the U.S government was seen as hiding evidence of war crimes from the public amidst turmoil surrounding the legitimacy of the conflict in Baghdad.
The collateral murder video can be found here. Due to its graphic nature I must warn any viewers of its real violence and confronting themes.
Governments Are Like Glass, The Dirty Ones Are The Hardest To See Through
Following the release of the video investigations and much debate over the legality of wikileaks and the journalistic ethics of sourcing illegal content even for the sake of public freedom to information began.
Government officials claimed that privacy and the secrecy of the relevant documents is a necessity for the protection of people involved, the security of the nation. As George Liber states, ” It is often too easy to oversimplify the contrast between the ‘righteousness of openness’ and the ‘evils of secrecy.’ “. The government holds so much power over its citizens largely in part because it also holds so much personal and critical information about said citizens. This information needs to be protected from abuse not just by foreign countries but also protected from other citizens.
Contrasting with this, others argue that governments need to be completely transparent to it’s citizens. Democracy fails if the population is unable to make an informed decision that the government can enact on its behalf if because the government is overstepping its power and influencing what we are informed of. The Obama administration is putting in significant effort to be more transparent to the public in order to be accountable to what the government does, garnering trust in the citizens of America but the extent to which the U.S government is really transparent is still under much scrutiny. especially after incidents such as Mannings’ leaks to Wikileaks.
A Line In The Sand
I find it difficult to argue that governments should be transparent and not keep anything secret. The Australian government surely knows a lot about me and my personal details and I know I would not like that information to be public domain even if I have nothing to hide simply because it’s objectively safer if no one knows. It seems a line must be drawn between what governments should and should not hide and it’s often agreed that this line exists between information crucial to a governments inner practices (i.e economic details and citizen information) and information relating to acts and details on behalf of the nations interests. If it’s in the nations interests to do something than shouldn’t it stand to reason that the nation should know exactly what’s being done?