WikiLeaks: Reactions from the ONI Team

With WikiLeaks dominating the media over the past two weeks, a number of the OpenNet Initiative's principals and staffers have commented publicly on the implications of the leaks on the Internet.

ONI co-principal investigator and director of the Citizen Lab Ron Deibert took part in the New York Times' 'Room for Debate,' responding to the question, "Even if WikiLeaks can be controlled, will others be motivated to flood the world with spilled secrets?" Deibert writes:

WikiLeaks is only a symptom of a much larger phenomenon to which governments, businesses and individuals will all have to get accustomed. Our lives have been turned inside out by a digital world of our own spinning. We will need new rules, norms and principles to adjust to this new environment. Meanwhile, some timeless legal and ethical principles should always apply.

Harvard professor and ONI co-PI Jonathan Zittrain offers a Q&A, co-written with Berkman Center researcher Molly Sauter and published in MIT's Technology Review. In it, Zittrain answers a series of basic questions on WikiLeaks' methods, as well as the legal implications of the latest leaks. Further updates will appear on Zittrain's blog.

Ethan Zuckerman, who penned a chapter for Access Controlled, has been blogging the WikiLeaks phenomenon, and recently answered questions on Amazon's decision to drop WikiLeaks for the Columbia Journalism Review. A sample:

Here’s the thing. Amazon is perfectly, legally justified in kicking customers off its service for any reason. They do have to realize that there are enormous PR implications when they do so. What Amazon is asserting here is that they are willing to remove content based on political pressure, or based on the perception of the offensiveness of that content.

Co-PI and Harvard professor John Palfrey has been quoted by the New York Times in regards to WikiLeaks and intellectual property law, stating that "this is less about stealing than it is about copying."

On the ONI blog, researcher Devin Gaffney discusses the popularity of the hashtag #WikiLeaks on Twitter, providing analysis of the use of various hashtags and questioning whether #WikiLeaks should be a 'trending topic.' Gaffney writes:

With all due respect to other trending topics, which on this day covered topics largely dealing with the death of Elizabeth Edwards and the attack in Varanasi, perhaps the Wikileaks story should have been trending, and perhaps the algorithm is due for some form of an overhaul to balance the needs of Twitter the company and Twitter the communications platform. The situation, then, is not whether or not Wikileaks is being discriminated against, but whether or not we value that algorithmic discrimination as users.

ONI staffer Rebekah Heacock, writing for Columbia University's Morningside Post, tackled the issue of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) advising students not to discuss WikiLeaks online. Heacock writes:

Seriously, SIPA? As fellow SIPA alum Ben Colmery pointed out in a comment on my Facebook wall, since when does having an opinion about a site leaking documents equate to actually leaking documents oneself? You claim to provide committed students with the necessary skills and perspectives to become responsible leaders. Apparently that means curtailing their academic freedom and teaching them how to bury their heads in the sand.

Jillian York, project coordinator for ONI at the Berkman Center, wrote about the implications of WikiLeaks on Internet freedom for Al Jazeera English, concluding:

Ultimately, there's no going back. WikiLeaks has changed the game, and like it or not, the cables are exposed for the world to see, with more leaks to come.

Even if the US or another government succeeds in tracking down and detaining Julian Assange, there are undoubtedly thousands lined up to take his place.

The only choices left, then, are to shut down the Internet -- all of it, everywhere -- or find a way to adjust to this brave new world.

Be sure keep an eye on the ONI blog for more updates on WikiLeaks.