on wikileaks and the speed of bits

It’s an interesting time to be involved in technology. We’re just starting to figure out how to appropriately compensate artists in the digital age, having finally come to terms with the ones and zeros that made fans more effective music distributors than record companies. Privacy has been completely reframed, from something we expected others to respect to something we’re expected to manage. And now the world’s last superpower watches helplessly as its secrets flood out day after day at the whim of a bunch of idealistic hackers.

Now, and into the foreseeable future, bits will travel faster than law. The sooner we accept that, the better.

For artists, new business models prove more effective than digital locks and battalions of hungry lawyers. In the area of privacy, a simple helping or two of empathy might do the trick. Look for yourself in the face of the kid you’re cyber-bullying. Think of your own wild weekend in Cancún before digging up e-dirt on a potential employee. Maybe her personal life has nothing to do with how well she does her job.

And what about national security? Perhaps Julian Assange and company shouldn’t have tried to usher in total transparency overnight just because they had the power to do so, but perhaps those entrusted to uphold the public good are being unnecessarily secretive out of a similar capriciousness.

Bits move faster than law.

Technology made secrets easier to keep before any sort of reasonable limits could be established. Like it or not, Wikileaks acts as a necessary balance to power. There’s every reason to hold it accountable for whatever damage it might cause, but to call for it to be prematurely silenced simply because we find what it says embarrassing is to betray the very democracy we’re claiming to protect.

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