Monday, July 26, 2010

The legality of WikiLeaks

Is a website like WikiLeaks legal? The site famous for publishing leaked government information released tens of thousands of documents this week detailing just how bad things have gotten in the war in Afghanistan.

The documents gave details on unreported civilian deaths as well as covert operations of key leaders in the Taliban. It also discusses possible interference from Pakistani intelligence agencies and the growing difficulties of occupation within Afghanistan. Those that run the site allege that the documents also include information on possible war crimes violations as well.

The 91,000+ documents are mostly from the Bush era, between the years 2004 and 2009. As one military adviser pointed out, they don’t include the current operations on the ground in Afghanistan, including Barack Obama’s plans for withdrawal from the region (following a buildup of troops).

That same advisor, however, also asserted that the release of documents compromises the security of military personnel on the ground.
White House national security advisor Gen Jim Jones said the release “put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk.”
The government has a right to keep certain information secretive, information that, if released, could compromise the mission of our men and women fighting overseas. That said, other information should rightfully be in the hands of the American people themselves, especially if policy is being shaped around what many may consider a lie or a manipulation of facts on the ground. The war itself is waning in popularity, and with the release of these documents that sentiment is not likely to change anytime soon.

The only time that information should rightfully be kept from the public’s eyes is when it’s in the best interest of the public to keep that information hidden, or when the release of that information may cause someone else significant harm. Likewise, a person cannot defend themselves by citing free speech if their speech causes a direct impact on a person’s livelihood. A person’s free speech rights don’t supersede the rights of others to be free from direct harm – I can’t erroneously and purposely yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater and expect no consequences when the mob tramples upon someone else, injuring or worse yet killing them. When I use one of my rights in a way that causes harm to others, it ceases to be a protected right.

But does the WikiLeaks release constitute such a threat? Information from the past few years being released won’t do much to hurt anyone, save for the reputation of the former president. And it’s not as if the people in Afghanistan don’t already know that civilians have been killed in this war, and to what extent.

A site like WikiLeaks, then, should continue to function. At most, the U.S. government could prosecute whoever leaked the information to begin with, but even that seems like a violation of free speech rights. If you disagree, consider the rights a whistleblower should have at a private company. That person would likely get fired; but they wouldn’t get prosecuted. Perhaps the same ought to be true of the person who leaked this information – so long as the information doesn’t contain critical plans that could endanger our fighting men and women.

A leak like the outing of a CIA agent is one that I believe is a prosecutable offense – it places men and women who are in delicate situations in harms way. But a leak like the one we’ve seen this week, thus far, is not producing much harm.

Until WikiLeaks compromises real security of our nation and/or our troops, or until the information they leak causes or potentially causes direct harm to another individual, the site should continue to function.

1 comment:

  1. Wiki leaks is based in a foreign nation and the founder is not of U.S. national. It is nearly impossible for any legal action to be taken, however it is possible for wiki leaks to be blocked on U.S. soil.