A thought piece on the impact of Wikileaks by Evgeny Morozov, author of ‘The Net Delusion’ and a leading sceptic on the internet’s power to democratise the world, offers a few interesting thoughts on Wikileaks that also may relate to the world of FOI and transparency.
The first is that Wikileaks may, in time, form part of a wider movement towards a ‘free internet’, which could include more attempts to promote (or force) transparency as well as issues such as copyright. What Morozov calls a ‘movement of geeks’ could well form around Wikileaks, combined with groups such as the Pirate party, who grew out of the Pirate Bay downloading site.
This may mirror the increasing convergence of FOI advocates with the Open Data movement, who have found that their interests are moving in the same direction, though not all transparency advocates are fans of Wikileaks. With a possible new Right to Data in the freedom bill, they look set to move closer still.
The second point is that of how championing ‘internet freedom’ can quickly rebound back on a government. Hillary Clinton made a very strong speech on internet freedom in January 2010, implicitly promising to drop iphones to ‘netziens’ like Britain dropped sten guns to the French resistance. She has now been accused of hypocrisy after the US government’s heavy handed response to Wikileak’s activities and some less than freedom-loving snooping on social media.
Similarly, FOI has a way of coming back to haunt politicians. Promises of openness have a powerful boomerang factor. Some see the danger early on, like Lyndon Johnson who refused to publicly sign the US Act in1966 and rather tepidly endorsed it following, it is said, a stream of un-presidential language. For all those of a more cynical bent, you could perhaps compare the young FOI enthusiast Tony Blair with the later more world weary politician, tired of the slings and arrows of outraged requesters.