I'm a big fan of The Register, a U.K. Web site that brands itself as “Biting the hand that feeds IT.” It's painfully tongue-in-cheek in a fashion that only British journalists can get away with, biting, sarcastic and sometimes plain mean. And sometimes, with only a headline, it can nail the cynical essence of a story.
And the site did exactly that above a story regarding the most recent flood of confidential cables released through whistle-blowing Web site Wikileaks. It read: “Wikileaks: Berlusconi useless, Pope Catholic.”
The new “diplomatic” cables, for the most part, are at worst, well, bitchy. It's mostly U.S. diplomats reporting what their sources say about world leaders. Italian prime minister Berlusconi is “useless.” France's Nicolai Sarkozy is “a naked emperor.” Canadians get off light. Apparently, our perspective on terrorism is rooted in Alice in Wonderland, and righteous indignation is our specialty.
Does anyone with the remotest grasp of the international sociopolitical scene find this to be news? The U.S. has asked its diplomats to gather information on the people at the heart of geopolitics. You could even call it spying. I thought that was their job.
It's embarrassing to the U.S., certainly, but as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Our partners have said to us, 'You should see what we say about you.'”
What Julian Assange is doing with his Web site could be called reckless, feckless, and just plain ugly. Governments, especially the U.S. government, want him to shut the front door, as my friend Liz likes to euphemise. That's a head-in-the-sand mentality.
The Internet, created, ironically enough, as a U.S. defence project, has made the notion of privacy nearly impossible. When data is created and stored electronically, it can't be safeguarded. One of the “revelations” in the latest rounds of leaks is that sources believe the Chinese government orchestrated attacks on Google. Really? And in other news, we're investigating those rumours about possible connections between the Pope and Catholicism. Not to mention bears and the woods.
There is likely nothing amid the latest rounds of leaks that a dedicated, government-sponsored hacker couldn't have unearthed. Privacy and secrecy are, if not entirely dead, warming up the Choir Invisible.
We've written a lot about open government on this site, a noble philosophy and undertaking, but not intended to be quite this, well, open. Maybe it's time to examine what forced transparency means. The Saudis are afraid of Iran's nuclear aspirations. Libya's Ghadaffi travels with a voluptuous blonde nurse (Lester Haines may have been joking about that one; I can't be sure). I don't like Mondays. (I am sure about that one). If it's in a digital format, anywhere, guess what? It's not a secret.
According to the United Nations, we do have a right to privacy. Practically speaking, we've killed it. In its place will have to come transparency, and that's going to be a very difficult adjustment for governments, enterprises, and individuals to make.