November 29, 2010Foreign Affairsinformationinformation warfareprivacySecurity

The return of information silos

Wikileaks will have long term consequences on how government’s share information

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

What Julian Assange and Wikileaks have done with privileged US government is plain wrong. Arrogant and self-righteous, the indiscriminate publication of internal discussions, assessments and correspondence cannot be justified on grounds of freedom of information. To suggest that all information must be made public, regardless of time, place, and context—ostensibly the grounds which Wikileaks uses to justify its anarchism—is to condemn government officials to life in a Panopticon. If everything a government official says and writes is liable to become public the next moment, you will only have self-censorship, political correctness and worse, a greater tendency to avoid putting debates and decisions on record. A government that can’t deliberate in private will be paralysed or ineffective, mostly both. The legality of Mr Assange’s actions is still under debate. The sensibility is not in question. It is senseless.

This time, it is also interesting.

In the cables released yesterday, there are few things that we didn’t know or suspect: Saudi Arabia and Israel both want someone to stop Iran’s nuclear programme; the Saudis detest the Iranians they see as Persian’; King Abdullah is not well disposed towards Asif Zardari or that China facilitated the transfer of North Korean ballistic missile technology to Iran. It is the details make the cables interesting. Not least from a voyeur’s perspective.

It’s unclear whether the Wikileaks will have major consequences in world affairs beyond creating embarrassment for the people and governments involved. It’s not as if the people in the Middle East didn’t know what their leaders were up to, and what US officials thought of them. It’s not as if China is about to stop its game as the world’s worst proliferator of weapons of mass destruction just because it has been fingered in some cables. Politicians, in any case, have thick skins.

What might happen is that brakes will be applied in the trend towards sharing of information within government and across departmental silos. A process that began as a result of the US intelligence community’s failure to piece together data that could have led to the uncovering of the 9/11 plot—and was adopted by governments across the world, including in India—might come to an end with abuse of technological power by Wikileaks. Information fusion’ within governments is likely to be the first casualty of Mr Assange’s war on responsibility.

Update: Well, here we are:

In addition to vowing to hold WikiLeaks to account, the administration also instituted new measures to try to prevent leaks.

Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew instructed government departments and agencies to ensure that users of classified information networks do not have broader access than is necessary to do their jobs, and to restrict the use of removable media such as CDs or flash drives on such networks.

OMB, the federal Information Security Oversight Office and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will evaluate aid the agencies in their efforts to strengthen classified information security, Lew said.

The White House move in turn comes a day after the Pentagon announced similar steps to bolster network security following a review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in August. [WP]

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