"Oh, I just looove freedom of information..."
Originally, I wasn’t going to weigh in on this debate – basically, because I thought it was stupid and boring. But now – due to certain circumstances that have arisen – I feel I must.
The other day I ran an article on Julian Assange’s underlying philosophy. One of the purposes of this article was – not to judge what Assange does – which I largely agree with – but to take a closer look at his motivations; which, I thought, were rather interesting. Assange has a definite – if rather abstract – political agenda. I laid that agenda out in the above article – together with describing a similar agenda in the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze – so I won’t go into it again.
Anyway, shortly after that article was published, visits to this site absolutely skyrocketed. I was sort of surprised, so I started poking around the stats to see why. Well, it would seem that in the article I had linked to a site called cryptome.org, which hosted Assange’s philosophical/political treatises. The people that run this site then presumably read my article and enjoyed it – because they linked back to me on their homepage. And that’s where the flood of readers came from.
Ordinarily, I’d have just shrugged my shoulders – happy that my article had not gone unappreciated. But being the curious mofo that I am – call it ‘journalistic instinct’; or, ‘nosiness’, if you prefer – I began looking into the site. And what an unusual site it is.
Apparently, it’s been around since the early days of the internet – it was set up by a New York based architect, John Young, back in 1996. It still shows these marks to this day, having not changed its ‘old skool’ html format.
Cryptome.org is essentially a leaks website – a sort of forerunner to WikiLeaks. “Fair enough,” I thought – but then, I looked into the site even further to try to discern what it was all about. That was when I began to realise that it wasn’t just a site like WikiLeaks.
Some of the stuff they leak/run is pretty important – for example, some time ago Microsoft attempted to sue them because they ran a Microsoft document dealing with how the company were going to assist in… well… I can’t put it politely: government spying.
Now, that’s pretty important – I, for one, certainly want to know if Microsoft are assisting governments in spying on me. But Cryptome doesn’t stop there. They also publish some very dodgy stuff. Here’s some passages from a Reader’s Digest article that was done about them back in 2005:
In the weeks before New York City hosted the Republican National Convention last August, security officials spent millions securing the area around Madison Square Garden against a possible terrorist attack. They set up barricades, installed extra cameras on buildings, and assigned extra police to the streets. John Young, a 69-year-old New Yorker, was also surveying the neighborhoods. He spent hours wandering around midtown Manhattan, snapping photos of unprotected local streets and other vulnerable areas near the convention site. He even snapped the location of a major pipeline that carries highly explosive natural gas into Manhattan.
Young was not working for the NYPD or the FBI. Nor was he part of a terrorist plot. A self-employed architect, he claims to be just a concerned citizen, someone who thinks we’re all safer if there are no government secrets.
So what did he do with all that sensitive information? He posted it on the popular website he runs, which typically gets 50,000 visitors in a day. Young featured dozens of maps and pictures, as well as observations about ways terrorists might attack the convention. Just trying to help, Young says.
Look, I’m the last person in the world to start banging on about freedom of information being dangerous in the age of terrorism – I know where that argument comes from and who it supports… I also know where it leads; but, that said, Cryptome still makes me uncomfortable.
I don’t need to know this stuff – I don’t need to know the ‘weak links’ in the Republican Party’s security. Indeed, who on earth would need to know this information – except some Travis Bickle-type who is intent on assassinating some political figure?
I’m not even talking about some scary Islamist militant (although, let’s not completely discount the possibility) – I’m talking about some wacko ala Lee Harvey Oswald (conspiracy theorists, please, don’t flood my comments section – thank you very much). I’m talking about the Timothy McVeighs of this world.
I guess the case could be made that the FBI et all could use Young’s ‘research’ to tighten up security – indeed, Young himself does make this argument – but its a little dubious. But let’s say we do accept this argument – how on earth can we justify this (also pulled from the Reader’s Digest article above):
Recently I surfed the Web and checked out Young’s site. Among other items, I found detailed maps showing how to reach a secret government bunker that’s reportedly one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s emergency hideouts. There were also photos of the front entrance.
Or consider what some of Cryptome’s sister sites are doing:
At another site are the home addresses and phone numbers of hundreds of officials around the country, from federal judges to mayors to attorneys general.
Cryptome provides similar information – listing the home addresses of CIA officials; including that of former director Porter Goss. Who the hell seeks out that sort of information?
This is all pretty far beyond WikiLeaks, of course – WikiLeaks have the wherewithal to vet the information they’re releasing, ensuring that this sort of stuff doesn’t make it to press. But we have to look at extremes in order to draw a clear line in the sand as to what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in the freedom of information debate. Cryptome – or at least, some of what it posts – is, in my opinion, unacceptable.
Why? Well, I think I’ve laid the case out fairly well – but I’ll add one or two last comments.
First of all, its sites like Cryptome that will – if the time ever comes – give certain power-players a mandate to shutdown net freedom. Sites like this will give them the ammunition they need in the debate over whether or not internet freedom should be absolute.
Secondly, the people who contribute to Cryptome clearly appreciate their privacy not being encroached upon – and I can appreciate that, really, I can. But have they not become so obsessed with this that, they themselves, have started to become the ‘bad guy’ – the person who spreads private information about people on the web? On that note I’ll leave you with a quote from the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
UPDATE: Well, it looks like posting the addresses of certain public officials can end with some jail time for the eager freedom of information warrior: Blogger gets 33 months for threatening judges.
Turner had faced up to six years in prison. His trial was moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, where the case twice ended in mistrials after jurors deadlocked. In addition to his statements, Turner posted photographs, phone numbers, work addresses, and room numbers for the three judges.
Of course, Turner actually threatened the judges – but still, something to be learned, perhaps…
Read Full Post »