Here's why Wikileaks is a horrible idea

Good idea: "Principled leaking" of classified or proprietary documents, a time-honored (and imperfect) practice that has altered history for the better.

Horrible idea: Wikileaks, an under-construction Web site that purports to support "principled leaking" but is actually a building a repository of legal, privacy, and perhaps national security disasters waiting to happen.

Unless, as is suggested by some commentators on Slashdot, Wikileaks is actually just a money-raising venture.

In a nutshell, Wikileaks will use a wiki format to allow anyone -- from the Chinese dissident to the disgruntled/recently fired nincompoop -- to post whatever documents he or she pleases, safe in the knowledge that their contribution will remain anonymous and intact.

Here's how Wikileaks describes itself:

"Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the west who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.1 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources."

Here's their answer to the posting of documents that are malicious, fictitious, unsubstantiated, libelous, illegal, and/or dangerous: Don't worry, be happy, the wisdom of crowds will sort the righteous from the ridiculous.

And while the crowds work their magic?

Well there's the rub and the reason this is such a terrible idea.

Principled leaking has been a positive force throughout modern history in large part because standing between the would-be leaker and the public has been a third party -- most often the press -- to make judgments as to whether the benefits of the leak outweigh the societal costs. Perfect? Of course not. But the alternative presented by Wikileaks conjures up images of chaos that are difficult to overstate. (Lawyers, start licking those chops.)

Wikileaks has the audacity to cite Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers as Exhibit A of the virtue of their plan, apparently oblivious to the fact that the New York Times spent months debating the legality and ethicality of publishing such documents during wartime. That they made the right call isn't the point. That someone other than the leaker did is irreplaceable.

Wikileaks indicates that it hopes to go live by March.

Here's hoping this misguided project never gets off the ground.

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