BY ARIEL SMILOWITZ
On December 7, 2010, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was taken into custody on charges of rape. His arrest occurred at the peak of an international scandal; along with five major newspapers from around the world, WikiLeaks had just released confidential diplomatic cables from 274 U.S. embassies around the world. The cables, which included numerous comments regarding the War on Terror, efforts toward nuclear disarmament, and tension in the Middle East, caused widespread criticism and bewilderment, leaving many of the world’s great powers threatened by the website. The backlash resulting from the leaks has led to arguments over shutting the website down, which has been operating since 2006. However, the WikiLeaks scandal represents a much larger issue that can’t be solved by shutting down the website. This is an issue of order v. freedom in the U.S.: do we have a right to know what our government is doing, or is it better for us to be kept in the dark?
People across America are divided over this issue. On one side of the argument is more freedom – the freedom to read confidential files about our country’s diplomatic actions. The U.S. was founded as a republic, meaning that in theory, the people are the ones who are governing this country. From this standpoint, there must be transparency in our government in order for us to effectively govern; we can’t do our job when we don’t know the truth. Furthermore, opponents of transparency claim that the government’s attempt to shield the truth from the general public is a paternalistic gesture, meant to keep us safe. However, although the government may mean well, is there a point when too much coddling becomes suffocating? In other words, will keeping us in the dark only hurt us in the future? As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’d rather be burdened by the effects of too much liberty than too little.” No matter the consequences, our right to know what the truth is outweighs many of the government’s excuses for secrecy.
On the other side of the argument is the issue of order, which is any government’s primary job. However, the question is whether or not stability and national security takes precedence over our freedom to know the truth. In today’s age of globalism, international politics, and terrorism, it is much easier for the wrong information to get into the wrong hands, potentially endangering the lives of millions. For example, during the aftermath of World War Two, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and executed for committing espionage by relaying information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. This case is highly controversial, as the level of their involvement is still largely unclear; nonetheless, it still portrays the potential effects of crucial information ending up in the wrong hands. Especially in today’s technologically advanced times, the threat of compromising the nation’s safety is one that looms over the whole country and in the eyes of many, WikiLeaks is a very real threat to our national security.
One thing is for sure: this WikiLeaks scandal has opened a Pandora’s Box that will rewrite national and international diplomacy. Whether or not this website is shut down, there will always be another mirror website ready to relay top secret information to the world, and those leaked documents will forever be open to the public. The Internet is written in ink; everything that has been revealed by WikiLeaks has been permanently etched into its system, available at the click of a button. With this in mind, it would be foolish to continue to keep information from the general public, as it will eventually reveal itself in the end.
When it comes down to it, is maintaining order and security more important, or does our right to know prevail? If anything, the government only got a taste of its own medicine. If we as a nation have to sacrifice privacy in the name of security, especially after September 11, 2001, then so does the government. As serious and immediate the potential threat to our national security is, our right to know the truth is ultimately more important. Rather than keep us in the dark, the government should find a way to involve the people without putting the nation’s security at risk. Whatever the case, the government needs to realize that the era of transparency is quickly descending upon us.