CIGI hosts Wikileaks panel

On Jan. 12, the Centre of International Governance Innovation (CIGI) held a panel discussion on the scandal surrounding Wikileaks, the website acting as a medium for whistleblowers, and its founder Julian Assange.

Technology executive Mark McArdle addressed the technological aspect of the scandal. He explained, “The scale of things today are much different than they were 15 years ago before the Internet had taken off.”

“[There have always been secrets but] the ability to control the secrets were much different … technology has made everyone in this room a potentially a publisher,” he added, finding this problematic because of the lack of editorial oversight or fact checking that accompanies such publications.

Other panelists included Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and former Ambassador to Germany, and Andrew Hunt, a professor at University of Waterloo. Geoffrey Stevens, who currently teaches a media and politics course at Wilfrid Laurier University and former managing editor at Maclean’s, moderated the discussion.

One focus of the discussion was the undesirable consequences of Wikileaks notably following the leak of over 400,000 government documents last October, which detailed American and British involvement in the Iraq war, as well as a variety of other governmental activities.

Heinbecker explained that the leaks are a perfect example of “the law of unintended consequences… [in which] you make a big effort to correct one problem but you create another.” Instead of making the world a more transparent and open place, the leaks will force governments to reconsider what type of information is shared and what interactions are documented.

Heinbecker continued, “[Governments] will just go to greater and greater efforts to make sure that there are fewer hands who get their hand on this information…. governments will work harder to be more secretive”.

Furthermore, Heinbecker believes that if diplomats can’t count on their conversations being kept confidential, effective diplomacy is in jeopardy.

He added that some interactions and information are best kept secret, especially when you have a “reality-challenged” regime such as Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea that is able to access such sensitive information.

The panelists all agree that the Wikileaks scandal has been sensationalized to the point that the issue at hand is not adequately being assessed.
In addition, the question of what Assange’s “agenda” is remains a point of interest.

McArdle explained that Assange is largely focused on revealing just how “bad” the United States is and that publishing this information will expose how problematic American policies are to the public.

Stevens stated, “Wikileaks’ motives is suspicious and Assange’s motives are unknown.”

Heinbecker expressed that an interesting part of this story is Assange’s use of news organizations to filter the information to the public. He explained that it takes expertise for someone to work through the massive amounts of sensitive and technical information and he himself a former diplomat could probably not make complete sense of the documents.

“There is an assumption that this information is true. It may not necessarily be gossip, but it may not be the truth either,” said Heinbecker.