The role of ‘leaks’ in the pursuit of Internet freedom
Many of the headlines in recent days with regard to Internet freedom have been in the context of "leaks," in which individuals release information for public access that was previously kept secret by larger organizations.
Wikileaks, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have been among the most notorious names when it comes the revealing of previously secret government actions. These leaks have been growing quite common as of late with both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it is quite disconcerting to know that many of these actions, such as the National Security Administration's PRISM program, has been in existence without the majority of American citizens knowing about its existence. On the other hand, it is a relief to know that there are people working to expose this information.
Heroes or spies?
However, there are a number of people who have grown quite critical of these actors. Edward Snowden, for instance has been granted temporary asylum in Russia and is currently being charged under the 1917 Espionage Act in the United States. At the same time, he has been called a hero by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, according to the Guardian. Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, finds himself in a similar situation as he finds himself confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London under diplomatic asylum.
The question in these situations is weather or not these figures should be treated as criminals or heroes. In the case of PRISM, while people are upset about the information they learned with regard to the NSA surveillance, many are thankful that they are now aware. Many of these leakers have acted because they did what they felt was for the common good.
This makes for a complicated scenario. In the case of Edward Snowden, who is being treated as a spy, what he felt was for the benefit of American citizens, is being treated as an act of espionage. It creates a frustrating system for government watchdogs and citizens alike.
Those who feel the government is acting maliciously have to jeopardize their freedom to bring this information to the public, while the public only learns about these dangerous kinds of programs through these kinds of acts.
This can be seen in two of the bigger profile leaks in the recent past – the Wikileaks publication of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the revelations regarding the NSA PRISM program.
The Hill reported that the harm that the latter information could be detrimental to the U.S. economy. In knowing about the practices of the U.S. government, other countries now have grounds to restrict the traffic that American businesses produce and block users from accessing sites from around the world. Since these leaks, legislators have started discussions regarding that would work to help promote greater Internet freedom, despite treating the actor who brought them to the public eye as a spy.
According to Fortune Magazine, the Wikileaks published a draft of a trade agreement that could enact action similar to the SOPA and PIPA acts that were met with such disdain previously. However, this time, it is in the form of a trade agreement that has been done entirely behind closed doors. To say that this kind of an action is an inevitability, or that it will severely limit individual freedoms online could be a drastic leap considering it is difficult to know exactly what has been entailed in these discussions. But this is exactly the problem.
If citizens around the world wish to understand the kinds of legislation that will govern their future Internet use, should they have to wait for a "spy" to leak the information to the public?