The Ethics of Wikileaking

From Talking Philosophy:

One argument in favor of the leak is the classic Gadfly Argument (named in honor of Socrates because of his claim to the role of the gadfly to the city of Athens). The gist of the argument is that the people in government need to be watched and criticized so as to decrease the likelihood that they will conduct and conceal misdeeds in shadows and silence.

Given that governments have an extensive track record of misdeeds, it certainly makes sense to be concerned about what the folks running the show might really be doing under the cloak of secrecy and national security. If it is assumed that being part of the government does not exempt these people from moral accountability, then it would seem to follow that leaking their misdeeds is, in general, a morally acceptable action. After all, it would seem to be rather absurd to argue that people have a moral right to keep their misdeeds a secret.

Comments

4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Paulo,

    Well that seems to be obvious since the very beggining. I just can not understand how is it possible that someone does not think absolutely the same. Have not Ellberg and Chomsky teached anything to the U.S.? TYWKIWDBI have an excellent argument about this at http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2010/12/chalmers-johnson.html . Peace

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Justin,

    To be fair though, the author at Talking Philosophy doesn’t present this as the sole point of view. He goes on to spell out a few counterpoints to this, and then leaves it unresolved. Just sayin’.

    As usual it’s a gigantic gray area without a clear right or wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Brit,

    I have to wonder: could the same argument be applied to common people? It would go something like this:

    “The gist of the argument is that the people need to be watched and criticized so as to decrease the likelihood that they will conduct and conceal misdeeds in shadows and silence. Given that common people have an extensive track record of misdeeds, it certainly makes sense to be concerned about what the folks around you might really be doing under the cloak of ‘personal privacy’. If it is assumed that being part of the society does not exempt these people from moral accountability, then it would seem to follow that leaking their misdeeds is, in general, a morally acceptable action.”

    It also raises the question of whether there should be any secrecy of any kind in government. For example, if it was World War 2, would it be justified to leak war secrets in all cases (whether about troop movements, atomic bomb research, etc) because sometimes government officials will hide misdeeds under the cloak of “national security” and therefore, no secrets are ever allowed? I would think that this is the logical conclusion of such an argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • outeast,

      Labossiere (the TP poster) seems to me to be misstating the Wkikileaks case in a way that makes it rather easy to (mistakenly) reason from governments to individuals as you do here.

      The ‘gadfly’ may be a hypothetical defence, but it is fundamentally different from the actual theory that motivated Assange to found Wikileaks and as such is at best a red herring, at worst a straw man. Assange’s focus is ad-hoc conspiracies of individuals in power.

      This is not invulnerable to criticism, but it does mean that reasoning from governments to indivituals becomes meaningless – individuals qua individuals are not, by definition, conspiracies, and individuals who are involved in conspiracies are not exempted. The ‘individual vs govermnment’ is thus a false dichotomy.

      Regarding your second point, one of Assange’s core premises is that a climate that benefits or enables ad-hoc conspiracies is likely to benefit unjust organizations more than just ones; as such, he explicitly allows for the possibility of benign conspiracies but argues that ‘in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems.’

      Note that Wikileaks really does abide by these principles. It is not just governments that have been leaked via the organization: Wikileaks has hosted leaks on political parties and groups (eg the BNP, the Bilderberg Group), corporations (Julius Baer, Trafigura), churches (Scientologists)… They even hosted the stolen UEA emails, despite the fact that this really tested even their loose definition of a ‘conspiracy’.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0


Creative Commons License