The dust from the CableGate bomb has settled down. Diplomats and politicians are now cautious about what to say and where to say it. Whistleblowers are wondering how they can avoid sharing the same fate as Bradley Manning. Journalists are watching out for WikiLeaks developments and new leaks.
These reactions do not come as a surprise. WikiLeaks not only penetrated the diplomatic world of discreet negotiations and rocked its foundations, it made a strong attempt at legitimising the leaking of classified information, regardless of the content, and the consequences. The raison d’etre? Freedom of speech.
The attempt was effective. While diplomats and politicians froze at seeing their counterparts’ names (and theirs!) on cables splashed all over the media, the rest of the world rejoiced over the news of the massive leak of documents. It portrayed Julian Assange as the modern-day hero of freedom of speech, and of democracy.
Over the past few weeks, this website hosted a poll: we asked you whether you thought WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be prosecuted for CableGate. We asked you to choose between three responses: a ‘yes’, if you thought WikiLeaks’ release of classified information was illegal, a ‘no’ if you thought the release was in the public interest, and a ‘maybe’, depending on the results of the investigations.
The result is a vote of confidence in Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and the work it does, with 114 voters (73% of votes) saying the release was in the public interest. Only 25 voters (16%) were in favour of Assange’s prosecution, while 18 voters (11%) opted for a ‘maybe’.
The balance is clearly in favour of freedom of speech and the public interest. The public should know whether the politicians it elected are serving the electorate’s and the country’s best interests. Or whether they’re squandering public funds, or getting away with murder (literally!).
In my mind, one doubt remains. Is freedom of speech absolute, or is there a line which, if crossed, can cause irreparable damage to – for example – the conduct of international relations which relies squarely on discretion? Do we know the difference between exposing breaches of human rights, or politicians’ corrupt practices, and leaking cables when all they reveal is the rough workings of diplomacy and a collection of unguarded comments? What is the highest price society is willing to pay in exchange for absolute freedom and total transparency?