We won’t tolerate secrets being kept secret anymore

The London Observer correctly explains the significance of Wikileaks and the empowering of the public against deceit pursued by the powers that be, and that includes many mainstream journalists:

For a long time now, since digital media became the defining characteristic of our age, a revolution in information and secrecy has been predicted. WikiLeaks, and in particular the continuing exposure of US embassy cables, allows us for the first time to see the contours of that revolution – and some of the implications.

Chief among them seems to be the fact that even the best resourced and most confidential of organisations can no longer rely on a properly secure intelligence network. What once could be stamped “top secret” and locked away in a filing cabinet now becomes digitised and potentially accessible to any number of people with a keyboard and a broadband connection. Diplomats, politicians and business leaders around the world will no doubt overnight become more circumspect about expressing any for-your-eyes-only opinion.

The phrase “citizen journalism” often attaches itself to WikLeaks, as if this was a new phenomenon, but journalism has always relied on leaks and tipoffs and secrets from the wider public. What the internet, and its communities of information gatherers, allows is for this to be done on a more epic and anonymous scale. In this new world, as Julian Assange has acknowledged by using trusted news organisations to reveal the secrets, the process of editing and sifting and contextualising stories becomes more crucial than ever.

If WikiLeaks represents one version of future transparency, recent events have also revealed how those with information to protect will begin to shape the argument against that transparency. Assange was originally scrupulous in trying to avoid his medium becoming the message: it was the information that was important, not the individual or organisation that brought it to the public domain. As the bizarre circus around Assange now proves, however, news generally refuses to be depersonalised. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the particular extradition case, there will always be interests that will move to undermine and destroy the messenger, even as they lose control of the message.