Thursday, December 16, 2010

Uma, duas, várias WikiLeaks...(II)

Our Leaky World, por Jesse Walker, na Reason:

This is a story about a new era—one where, in the words of the security specialist Bruce Schneier, "the government is learning what the music and movie industries were forced to learn years ago: it's easy to copy and distribute digital files." If WikiLeaks shut its doors tomorrow, disgruntled soldiers or secretaries or bankers or bureaucrats or cops or managers or their nosy spouses could still send secret documents to Cryptome instead. Or perhaps to OpenLeaks, a forthcoming site in the same genre. Or to any of the other operations of this sort that may appear in the coming years. Or they could just release the information directly to the world, emailing items anonymously to the media or releasing big chunks of data as a torrent.

If you have access to secrets you'd like to share, you no longer need to persuade Bob Woodward or Seymour Hersh to be your intermediary. And the larger the institution with secrets to keep, the more opportunities for leaking there will be.

How will those big institutions react to this leaky new era? One theory says they'll keep fewer secrets and behave with greater care. Forced into the sunshine, they'll revise their behavior; if they're more likely to be caught misbehaving, then they'll be less likely to misbehave.

A rival theory says they'll just try harder not to be caught. Closed hierarchies will close themselves further in a desperate attempt to stop the flow of information. Assange himself suggested this would happen in an essay he wrote in 2006, which the blogger Aaron Bady exhumed and explored in a widely cited post last month. In Bady's words, "the more opaque [an organization] becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to 'think' as a system, to communicate with itself. The more conspiratorial it becomes, in a certain sense, the less effective it will be as a conspiracy." Under the sunshine of WikiLeaks, an authoritarian organization "will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire."

The two theories aren't really mutually exclusive. Different institutions will react in different ways to the new environment, and as the consequences of each approach become clear the world will haphazardly evolve.


In the longer term, the paramount issue is that those limits won't even work. I remember when the record companies were filled with men and women who thought the key to stopping online filesharing was to shut down a company called Napster. I remember when a teenaged programmer named Shawn Fanning was attracting the sort of press that Julian Assange is getting today. In 2010, the average 14-year-old probably doesn't know who Fanning is. He might not even recognize the name Napster. But he knows how to download music for free.

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