I'm a (cowardly?) fence sitter when it comes to the latest Wikileaks data dump. I neither think it is the most treasonous evil thing to happen, but neither do I think it is the greatest evolution of information freedom ever.
I do think that Wikileaks is a natural reaction to the excesses (perceived or otherwise) of western governments since 9/11. But like all reactions to excesses in one direction, it often is excessive in another. Extreme circumstances tend to produce extreme counter-reactions. It is a sign that a natural "balance" is out of whack.
The argument used to justify the leaks is that "Governments are too secretive". This perspective views governments as faceless entities that are a supernatural power to themselves. But this ignores that governments are made up of people, many people that are employees, whose service is a daily job, a paycheck. It is one thing to hold our publicly elected officials accountable, but it starts to slide into a grey area when we expose the employees of the government.
One aspect of human activity that we all take for granted is some degree of privacy in our communications with our peers, our managers and our subordinates. Our psychology is deeply rooted in the concept of confidence, trust, privacy and forgetfulness. Even though electronic communications are often archived for an indefinite period, we still assume that they will not be brought back out and used against us at a later date. We certainly do not assume that the whole world will be able to review what we say.
Wikileaks is stomping all over these intrinsic assumptions we have in our communications. Many view these as rights, and protest loudly when private communications are brought into the light of day, sometimes many years after the communications happen. This is an aspect of the modern digital age that society has not yet fully come to terms with. For those that celebrate when someone else's communications are shared with the entire world, they had better be prepared to celebrate when it is their turn.
This is not a problem with Wikileaks, or rather it is not a problem Wikileaks has created, the same issue exists with the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing etc. The common saying is, "Google never forgets", and that has profound implications in human society. Effects which we are now exploring with the data dumps Wikileaks is releasing. For more on the ramifications of this, Chris explored this more in depth here.
If this trend continues, I am concerned about a possible chilling effect this will have in the civil service. There are already possible issues with recruitment in Canada, the low pay, high stress and stifling effect of certain government policies are already scaring off qualified candidates. With the sunshine list disclosing your salary, efforts to review your online activity on government computers, and now a push to disclose all electronic communications, employment in the service of our government is looking less and less attractive.
If this personal price becomes too high, we will chase away the best and the brightest, and then who will be willing to serve?