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domingo, 16 de enero de 2011

Secrecy is the problem, not leakers

Secrecy is the problem, not leakers

WikiLeaks is now at the centre of a global battle between media and those in power but what's new about what Julian Assange is doing? WikiLeaks is much more than just another journalistic scandal, it is a challenge to the way that power and news media operate in the Internet Age.

In some ways WikiLeaks is a traditional investigative news operation. It gets its information from a source and the journalists decide what they will publish. It needs a platform, an audience and revenue just like any other newsroom. It can also be sued, censored or attacked. But because it is trying to operate online outside of normal national jurisdictions it is harder to hold to account. It can use mirror sites and multiple servers to avoid physical restraint.

It also disseminates data on such a vast scale and directly to the public so it is posting a different threat to those in authority used to being able to influence if not control the media. It is independent and not run for profit and the people who work for it are ideologically motivated. This all makes it much harder to clamp down.

Oxford University Internet analyst John Naughton says that what WikiLeaks is really exposing is the extent to which the western democratic system has been hollowed out. It is not that what it publishes will endanger lives or make government impossible. It is that it forces power out into the open. That is why those in power are attacking it. WikiLeaks worries them because it protects its sources and gives the evidence directly and in great detail and scale to the citizen.

It is also a challenge to mainstream media. As Columbia University digital journalism expert Emily Bell argues, it forces journalists and news organisations to demonstrate to what extent they are now part of an establishment it is their duty to report. In other words, WikiLeaks exposes the degree to which normal journalism has lost its watchdog role.

Mainstream journalism stands accused of failing to be critical enough of those in authority. Over the economic crash of 2007 and over intelligence and the Iraq war, it failed to challenge the conventional wisdom. It was not a conspiracy or a failure of resource. It was because journalism can be too responsible, balanced and passive. Sometimes journalism needs to be disruptive, critical and even partial.

No-one denies that what WikiLeaks has revealed about the Iraq war or the diplomatic cables is true. It is important because it has revealed specific abuses such as the collateral damage video of US military executing civilians. But the latest release of diplomatic communications are even more significant because they show how power works, not just what it does. It gives an insight into the values, priorities and knowledge of authority that helps us to make much better-informed judgements of what those in power actually do. Surely, that is precisely what journalism is for?

It is encouraging to see how WikiLeaks is now working with mainstream news media organisations on their latest stories. It is good that the expertise within those newsrooms can be used to help filter, explain and contextualise the raw data. It can then be presented in a way that allows for proper responses by the authorities and the public. That kind of interaction is exactly what should happen over these issues, not the knee-jerk attempt to kill the messenger.

Instead of blocking access to websites and hiding behind firewalls it would be sensible for those in power to consider a more mature and transparent relationship with their citizens.

Of course, some of these revelations may compromise safety and security. There should always be limits on free expression. Responsibility comes with rights for the journalist. However, even when it is damaging, disclosure should always be welcomed. It's why it's the First Amendment.

The danger is that we are now heading towards a future where governments from Beijing to Washington will welcome more controls on the Internet. This would then limit the power of the most liberating technology the world has seen since the invention of printing itself. It would be nave to expect those in power to embrace radical accountability. So we need to fight for transparency and embrace the opportunity that initiatives like WikiLeaks represent.

I recognise that WikiLeaks is not itself entirely transparent but I think that it is becoming more so and other better versions will follow. The real problem in the world is secrecy not leakers.

Charlie Beckett is the founding director of POLIS, the journalism think-tank at the London School of Economics and UN Global Expert. He blogs and you can reach him on Twitter at @charliebeckett.

Source: Global Experts (, a project of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Copyright 2010 Global Experts/UNAOC

Swiss banker who helped WikiLeaks faces trial

GENEVA – A Swiss banker whose actions caused a U.S. judge to briefly shut down WikiLeaks three years ago goes on trial next week for distributing confidential documents.
Rudolf Elmer has been ordered to appear before a Zurich regional court on Jan. 19 to answer charges of coercion and violating Switzerland's strict banking secrecy laws. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to three years in prison and fined.
Elmer's release of files from the Swiss-based bank Julius Baer's offshore operations in the Cayman Islands prompted a U.S. judge to temporarily shut down WikiLeaks in 2008. The order was lifted following complaints from free speech groups and media organizations.

NYT: “gusano informático Stuxnet, un proyecto norteamericano-israelí”

Ya lo habíamos dicho en La pupila insomne el pasado 16 de noviembre, pero ahora el mundo se entera porque lo publica The New York Times:el gusano informático Stuxnet fue creado por Estados Unidos e Israel para sabotear el programa nuclear iraní.
Citando expertos militares y de Inteligencia norteamericanos, el influyente diario dice que la central nuclear de Dimona (al sur de Israel) se convirtió en los últimos dos años en un laboratorio para examinar y ensayar el virus Stuxnet que hoy afecta a gran parte del mundo y que fue reportado en Cuba el pasado verano.
Bueno, y ahora qué, ¿Israel y Estados Unidos van a indemnizar a todas las empresas y gobiernos que han sido dañados por Stuxnet, o las grandes corporaciones que controlan Internet, como Google y Facebook,los van a bloquear…?

La deuda de EEUU supera los 14 billones de dólares

La deuda soberana estadounidense ha superado por primera vez los 14 billones de dólares.
El Congreso tendrá que elevar el límite legal de endeudamiento o reducir el gasto público para respetar el tope legal establecido. De cualquier forma, los legisladores del Capitolio encaran una dura batalla.
Ese nivel de endeudamiento representa una factura de 45.300 dólares para cada uno de los habitantes del país.
Ambas partes han comenzado a culparse por el deterioro de la situación y la posibilidad de mantener ciertas funciones gubernamentales y evitar el impago de las obligaciones crediticias internacionales.
Los proyectos de ley para incrementar el tope de la deuda figuran entre los más impopulares que encara el Congreso, aunque hasta ahora acababan siendo indefectiblemente aprobados.
Empero, esta vez podría ser diferente pese a los indicios de que la retórica partidista amainó tras la matanza de Arizona.
El secretario del Tesoro Timothy Geithner dijo que no aprobar el incremento del límite de endeudamiento sería “una catástrofe” que podría rivalizar la crisis financiera del 2008-2009.
Los legisladores republicanos, animados por su victoria en los comicios de noviembre, sostienen esos resultados que el público recela del gran gobierno y el déficit presupuestario, y que ha llegado el momento de acabar con el continuado endeudamiento.
Derrotar un mayor endeudamiento es una de las prioridades del movimiento ultraderechista Tea Party y otros grupos conservadores.
Hasta ahora, la nueva mayoría republicana ha demostrado estar dispuesta a reducir este año 100.000 millones de dólares del presupuesto nacional. Aprobaron el cambio de normas patrocinadas por el presidente de la Cámara de Representantes John Boehner que facilitaría impedir el aumento del tope de endeudamiento.
En los dos años de presidencia de Barak Obama la deuda nacional casi se duplicó. Prácticamente la mitad de la deuda soberana desde la presidencia de George Washington fue acumulada en los últimos seis años, pasando de 7,6 billones en enero del 2005 al comenzar el presidente George W. Bush su segundo mandato a 10,6 billones el día que llegó a la Casa Blanca Obama y a 14,02 millones en la actualidad.

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