Longtime Simpsons fans may remember the episode wherein some of the child characters set up an amateur radio station to reveal secrets about their parents in order to gain some greater liberties. The parallels to Wikileaks are rather uncanny. WikiLeaks has successfully obtained Sweedish bank details and released classified embassy cables and Guantanamo Bay prisoner details, among other high profile leaks. Wikileaks is a well known public face of a growing culture in which information is “liberated” with or without permission.
Corporations have faced this, with a prototype iPhone 4 being a feature story on Gizmodo, and Nintendo and Sony have had video game developers leak extensive details of their video game systems to the press. Corporations, religious organizations and governments have been the targets of data thefts from the group Anonymous among others.
It would seem that information is moving towards Julian Assange’s ideal of being out in the public, from the banal to the significant. One has to step back for a second, however, and ask that, even if the press has the legal grounds to publish all of this leaked information, is it ethically permissible? The answer is almost always “Yes.” While discretion must be shown to protect innocents, the public has a right to information. These leaks have exposed corruption, sparked revolutions, toppled dictators and brought light to a public that was kept in the dark. Or given a preview of a new phone, in some cases. But by and large, important and revealing details have come out of these leaks, and it is the very purpose of the press to serve as the fourth estate and a watchdog, bringing this information to the public.