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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

Julian Assange: Hero or Villain?
By Paul Tomori
Thursday, December 09, 2010 at 06:06:10 (EST)

Don Henley once ridiculed conspiracy theorists about their notion that the US Government was covering up secretly documented alien visits. His song was called: "They're Not Here. They're Not Coming". In concert, Henley quipped: "we Americans can't keep anything under wraps".

So here we are about a decade later and the biggest news figure these days is Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks.org, a website dedicated to leaking confidential and secretive documents about government and business. How prescient of Mr. Henley. Even the most trivial of government dialogues is now being publicly aired by Wikileaks. Yet, here is the Wikileaks self-description appearing on their website:

WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.

Sounds like a great public service, right? Well, let's look at Mr. Assange's claim that his secret revelations consist of: "suppressed and censored injustices". After Enron was exposed by an internal whistleblower, we all learned how important it is to have a channel for crimes to be exposed. Wikileaks rose up out of that sentiment. Which is heroic in its motivation. If Wikileaks were to stick to that purpose, I believe the world could definitely be improved and that corporate criminals and government wrongdoings could be at least reduced. I also believe that the world would have immense respect for Wikileaks.

However, the decision by Wikileaks to publish confidential government memos between diplomats does not serve Wikileaks own self-stated objective. It just sensationalizes the mundane. There is nothing "unjust" about an American diplomat and her Chinese counterpart discoursing on the Korean problem. That's the kind of thing diplomats do and we absolutely need them to continue. Such lines of communication are absolutely vital to governments hoping to advance peace and mitigate conflict. In these communiques, the diplomats speculate on what the motivations and end-games might be for countries whose activities are disruptive to peace. It is imperative that these discussions be discreet in order for the communicators to speak openly. In these dialogues, the diplomats should feel free to indulge shared intelligence derived by acceptable peace-motivated pursuits. Now that these diplomats have had their rightfully private communications wrongfully publicly aired, how much future dialogue will they engage in... and how open will their communications be? It took years of persistent diplomacy to bring down the Berlin wall and to lift the Iron Curtain, both major symbols of inhibited communication during the cold war era. Will our modern diplomats clam up again over fear of exposure of their private discourses?

By publishing these confidential conversations, Wikileaks is being disrespectful to the rights of the people who have been elected to make such much-needed conversations and by extension, Wikileaks is disrespectful to democracy. You see, it is disrespectful to me as a citizen who seeks to elect competent representatives to government office so that they can sometimes work through confidential channels on keeping my world peaceful and stable.

Don't get me wrong. If Wikileaks comes across a document that shows illegal activity on the part of a government official, then such a document should probably be revealed. However, the indiscriminate publication of government dialogue, taken out of context, is highly irresponsible and misguided. The notoriety and demigod status to which Julian has been elevated by his supporters perhaps speaks to what might be the real motivation behind Mr. Assange... untempered self-promotion?

Mr. Assange, we implore you... Get back to your own self-stated goal and admirable focus on revealing worldly injustices. If you don't, you run the risk of losing a heroic notoriety in place of a deserved vilification.

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