TED Conversations

Daniel Sheehan


This conversation is closed.

Where do we stand on on WikiLeaks?

To what extent should we support or oppose WikiLeaks?
Are there limits to what should be exposed to the public by investigators? And who should decide these limits?
When corruption is exposed through leaks how far up or down the ladder should we assign responsibility?
How should bias in reporting leaks be balanced?
If these leaks are produced for corrupt purposes how do we deal with it?
How can we present and prosecute exposed corruption in the public theater without it turning into a witch-hunt?


Closing Statement from Daniel Sheehan

A great deal of this conversation has been on whether our governments have a right to keep secrets from us. Many have pointed out corruptions that the secrets have protected, others site our loss of privacy at the hands of our governments.
Also many insist that transparency is protection from the abuses of authority by the people that we place our most sensitive information with, but few agree that "total transparency" can be achieved or as an over all goal is appropriate.
But it is clear that we believe that whistle blowers should be protected from retaliation.

I believe that we have an increasing problem with the "Free Press" which has become more of a commercialized or biased press that is more concerned with profits or has fallen to the hands of specialized interests, and is enthralled by the depthless mirrored image of spectacle. What had once been an instrument of information now serves mainly to incite and titillate the masses.

It's my opinion that WikiLeaks, and sites like it that supply an outlet for whistle blowers, should have our support as members of the Fourth Estate.

A grateful thank you to everyone that has participated in this discussion.

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    Oct 22 2012: I have to chuckle every time I see this debate arise.


    Most of the time the people who are demanding "total transparancy" in the government are the same people who complain about the government invading the person's own privacy.

    If you are going to demand the government not have access to any of YOUR own "secrets" in your everyday life, stop the hypocracy of demanding you have access to all the "secrets" the government needs to keep so it can keep the country and it's citizens safe from attack and destruction.

    Everybody has secrets...including the people who want all secrets to be public knowledge. I don't care how moral or ethical you may claim to be. There is/are something(s) in your own personal lives that you would scream bloody murder about if somebody insisted you tell everybody else about them.

    Total transparancy? Look in the mirror first.
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      Oct 22 2012: uhm, pal. the government is not a person. it does not have human rights. would you defend the secrecy of corporations on the same basis?
    • Oct 22 2012: Rick, this is just scary man. People wish to have transparency because of the unbelievable amount of ruthless murder this country has supported and lied to the people about. Where to start, gulf of Tonkin incident, East Timor and the support of murdering maniac General Suharto, Iran Contra, The overthrow of Salvador Allende, 1953 coup in Iran that installed the murderous shah, oh and I almost forgot The lie of WMD and the ensuing death of millions in Iraq. People are fed up and they should be.

      How many more times does our government have to lie the people into war for us to realize that there interest is not in protecting us, or if it is, its low on the list of motivations for foreign intervention.

      There are plenty of things people including myself would not want just broadcasted to the world. Is that a reason to willfully remain ignorant of crimes against humanity? If I killed someone and then saw a man being killed do I just let it happen because, well,I did it, so I have no say in the matter?
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        Oct 22 2012: @Krisztiam and Brian

        Guys, c'mon. Start using some of that critical thinking we are all so proud about around here.

        The fallacy of demanding that any government charged with ensuring the survival of the country and the citizens living within it be "totally transparant" is the assumption that everybody in the world is "good" with no evil intent.

        Face reality. There are plenty of "bad people" in the world who would use the information governments have about it's military capability, intelligence gathering capability, and the intelligence it does gather, to do harm to the country and the people living within that country.

        Yes Krisztian, I WOULD "defend the secrecy of corporations on the same basis". People are an entity, and so are corporations AND governments. They are ALL entitled to have secrets under established laws concerning their activities. And those laws DO exist for very good reasons.

        And Brian, I'm sorry that my position is "scary" to you. But you would be a lot more scared, and a lot less SAFE, if everybody had access to everybody else's secrets.

        Seems to me you both want a "perfect world" where there are no "bad guys". Doesn't exist. Never will. And no amount of "information transparancy" will ever change that. So you need to look for a different solution to solve the problems you want fixed. "Total Transparancy" is not the viable solution.

        Please read that last paragraph again. I'm not arguing that many of the things you say "need fixing" don't "need fixing". I'm saying the proposed solution of "total transparancy" is NOT the solution. It...Will...Not...Solve...The...Problem. What it WILL do is make your life and safety much more at risk.
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          Oct 22 2012: an animal is also an entity. so it has the right to keep secrets? the word "entity" is one of the broadest terms. there are virtually no common attributes within the class of "entities". the fact that something is an entity has no bearing on anything.

          human rights are not defined to maximize output. human rights are not recognized for some practical reasons. human rights are recognized because we think it is moral and the right thing to do. many originates human rights in eternal, unquestionable principles, like god or nature. even if in some situations, violating a human right would bring about better results, we still want to stick to them. we accept a price.

          no such rights are granted for a government. governments do not have such basic rights. whatever rights the government has, it is fully practical and never moral. only moral to the degree that it must serve the people. whatever serves the people more, should be the only compass for a government.

          hence, your argument is invalid. people having right to privacy, and governments having rights to privacy are not even similar, and can not be judged by the same standards, the same mindset.
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          Oct 22 2012: one more thought. you say "And those laws DO exist for very good reasons.", but are you aware that wikileaks did not violate any US laws? under US law, you can not steal information, and you can not share information you handle as a government employee. but if you are not a government employee, and you get secret documents, you are free to do whatever you please with them. especially if you are not even an american citizen. so we agree, these laws exist for a reason. and the reason being, the state has to be exposed, because it can not be trusted to expose itself.
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          Oct 22 2012: @Krisztián, point of fact, animals do have secrets.

          Camouflage coloring is one of the most obvious. Some create false entrances to their burrows, and some create defensible positions within their lair. Beavers hide their burrow entrance from land predators underwater. Your dog may even defecate in an unused corner of the basement to avoid punishment.

          Animals have secrets, they come by them naturally, and there are no moral considerations (by our standards) in their activities.
        • Oct 22 2012: Rick, sorry but i feel just as scared knowing that a bunch of unaccountable bureaucrats are running around toppling governments and creating mass death in the process. I believe the people should run the government end of story. You seem to believe that we should be "guided" by our noble leaders into what is best for us. The more and more documents get released from prior administrations the more obvious it is just how sick and corrupt this government has been. Your endorsing a system that has continuously lead to rampant corruption and illegal war.

          If everyone had access to everyones secrets I think there would be a real chance at world peace. I am also almost certain if the people of this country got a glimpse at the inner workings of our government there would be a revolution....You either are not looking at the kind of brutality and deception the idea you support fosters or you don't care.
    • Oct 22 2012: @Rick Ryan: " There is/are something(s) in your own personal lives that you would scream bloody murder about if somebody insisted you tell everybody else about them."

      Critical thinking? Here goes!
      1. I was not created for the explicit purpose of protecting your rights.
      2. I do not take any money from you for 1, and call it "tax".
      3. I have not exempted myself from being accountable for all my actions.
      4. I have not created a room in my yard, called it "jail", and detained people there.
      5. I do not take protection money from you, and use that to invade other countries.
      6. I do not listen in on your private phone calls, or strip you naked at airports, invade your home while looking for drugs, or do any such thing to you.

      ... Need I go on? ...

      Therefore, I don't see why you must know about my private life.
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      Oct 22 2012: Hi Rick,

      Sorry it makes you chuckle. Not all of us who support the concept of a whistleblower (and the protection that it requires) are hypocrites

      The government knows everything I buy through my credit card transactions, as well as record of almost every book I read. And I would not be surprised if they had a copy of every mail i send and receive. I am not hiding anything from the government, but the fact that they collect this information without asking for it is very telling.

      All this in the name of "National Security" (i am sure my private email conversations must pose a serious threat to the country)

      But the government does not pay me a dime. To the contrary, they take my money very friendly (try not to pay taxes and see the consequences) and they use it without further consultation on my part. Is it wrong to at least want to know how the government is doing its job? Is there any other way to get a straightforward answer to that question?

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        Oct 23 2012: No, it's not wrong to know how your government is doing it's job. But it's unrealistic to expect them to tell you everything about how they do it if you want them to be able to perform many of their roles, like providing protection for it's citizens. Should your local police department publish the names of all it's undercover law enforcement personnel performing "sting" operations? That would make all the corrupt criminals ecstatic.

        And yes, the government may be ABLE to know about your credit card transactions, web surfing habits, and emails. But they aren't the first-line acquirer of those things (in most cases). They can GET that information through legal processes (subpoena) if needed, but the paranoia that exists that the government is actually sitting around collecting this information on every single citizen is way overboard. They will subpoena the information from your credit card company, your ISP provider, and your email provider if they really need it during an investigation of you.

        I don't ever recall just being able to read anybody's private emails during all my "Intel" years just 'cos I wanted to. I, and my government, had much more pressing things to do.

        Why all the paranoia? Honestly, the government doesn't think ALL 350 million citizens are National Security threats, so they aren't sitting around collecting all that info on you unless they have other reasons first. Then they will go get it from the sources who DO have it...and that is when they will also start collecting it on you themselves (FBI investigations, etc). Think about it rationally. If your government had all that information on EVERYBODY in the first place, how the heck would anybody be able to commit any crimes before the government could stop them from commiting them?

        The "Big Brother" concept of your government monitoring every aspect of your life BEFORE you give them a reason to is highly over-rated.
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          Oct 23 2012: Hi Rick,

          Regarding the government, I don't think that it has to be an all or nothing. It is indeed easy to make the case against 100% openness, not so easy to make the case against 80%.

          Having read many of the cables that wikileaks posted (of course, a tiny fraction), I have the impression that the majority are not matters of national security, but on the contrary, they paint a more honest view of how politicians view other countries and governments, and it shines some light on often overlooked motivations or causes behind events that we have seen painted with a different color in the media.

          It does not make sense to publish the names of undercover police officers, but why not legalize drugs instead? the number of undercover police needed would fall drastically. I think that in some areas of people's personal lives the government should realize they cannot bully everybody into compliance.

          You may be right about the paranoia, but wasn't it the case that NSA had an office in the west coast where communications through the optical lines coming from he pacific were split in two and the copy was routed somewhere for archival purposes? I'll have to go debunk myself

          I know for sure that in the past few years ordinary citizens were listening to foreign phone conversations and providing translated transcripts back to the government, and from what i heard at that time, it was 100% regular people, it sounded more like random checking rather than something targeted. No subpoenas

          As i have stated before, who has the monopoly on the definition of a matter of "National Security"? "why is the very definition of it a secret too? seems to me like national security is anything that threatens the government or powerful interests

          Of course 911 deniers mostly sound like nuts to me, but to say that the 911 attack was on every single person living in the country is a rhetorical over statement. Frequent repetition and a framing from that single point of view helped to drill that view

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