As one who blogs/writes/opines, I read a lot of media daily. Maybe I should say “skim” a lot of media daily. From top to bottom and left to right, there’s one hot current subject missing from the works of most editorial/opinion writers: WikiLeaks and the issue of free speech.

Those professionals may be smarter in not to stepping into the void. Or they may be conflicted as they try to balance the old chestnut of “the public’s-right-to-know” versus nearly any form of censorship. So saying, I have an opinion and I’m not conflicted.

WikiLeaks is wrong. What WikiLeaks has done has nothing to do with media doing its constitutionally protected job or censorship. What WikiLeaks is doing is not … nor should it be … protected by any perceived right of free speech. It’s dumping huge quantities of mostly extraneous classified data into the mainstream media, not because it’s the right thing to do but because it can. That isn’t free speech. That’s an abuse of free speech.

Over several decades, I’ve loudly defended the “public-right-to-know.” Especially when it concerned MY right to know. There were also times when I more quietly honored the maxim though I disagreed with the information under discussion and with publication of it. It really is a two-edge sword.

Think back over all emails and other written correspondence you’ve ever created for whatever purpose. Think of all the extremely personal data you’ve committed to the written word and placed in the hands of people you trusted. Make it even simpler. Think of all the credit card numbers and bank account details you guard.

Now, suppose someone resurrected all your personal correspondence and found all those account numbers. Suppose all that information appeared on the front page of your local newspaper. And every other newspaper. Today!

You’ve done nothing wrong. You’ve honored relationships, been truthful in your business dealings and careful in guarding your private economic information. But, through no fault of your own, every word you’ve ever written and every business transaction you’ve ever made, is now everybody else’s business. All of it. Even bank accounts.

My guess is you … like me … would scream to high Heaven that you felt violated, that someone had committed a treasonous act and, regardless of the accuracy of the information, you had been victimized. And you would be right! All of us … individuals, corporations or governments … have a need for privacy. We have an expectation of privacy. We have a right of privacy.

Computers and the Internet have combined to give us technological abilities far exceeding our ethical responsibilities to use them for their designed purpose: processing and distribution of information. We’d all like to expect the best from each other. But centuries of experience have shown there will be an abuse for every use.

Many of us now possess tools to make us the most informed … and in some cases the most powerful … people who ever lived. The ubiquitous little laptop and an electronic attachment to the largest party line ever created have given us that power. What we don’t think of most of the time is that we have an accompanying responsibility to use them safely and properly. And securely.

Someone … or several someones … has been deliberately exposing hundreds of thousands of pieces of information dealing directly with our national security and the conduct of our relationships with other countries in the world. That person … or persons … has defaulted on individual responsibility and safety in the name of some sort of personal ego trip. Treasonous? Maybe. Wrong? Certainly!

WikiLeaks, in turn, has defaulted on its chosen role to be a reliable public information source, instead becoming the conduit by which deliberately privileged information is no longer privileged.

A responsible media dealing with private or unpublished information will almost always balance the value of disclosure of that information with the public’s right to know. Most of the time … most of the time … some or all of it will be published in some form. But once in awhile, issues of individual/national safety, economic security or other reasons will be considered when publication decisions are made. That’s the right thing to do.

WikiLeaks has not done any of that. By admission of it’s own management, documents were not read or screened or evaluated in any way before publication. They were dumped in and they were dumped out.

That’s where I part company with WikiLeaks and, in this case, “right-to-know.” Each document, from whatever source and about whatever subject, required review prior to publishing. Information value, national security and other factors should have been weighed. It appears none of that was done.

That’s my opinion. Guess the New York Times is still working on theirs.

One Response to “The other side of our “right to know””

  1. gil peterson Says:

    Right on, Barrett: right-to-know and Palin.