Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wikileaks: Whistleblowing and Transparency in the Cyber Age.

Wikileaks really has me split down the middle. On the one hand I do take exception to military documents being leaked, if those document contain information that could directly endanger individuals in our military or others who have helped us. I’m not talking about the generic docs about our strength in numbers, how many planes, or bombs we have – they may be classified, but they aren’t likely to be used against us. I’m talking about the documents that actually name people specifically like: contractors, translators, guides, and sympathizers. Certain people need anonymity for their sake and the sake of their families. According to Wikileaks there have been no tragedies yet, and I sincerely hope it stays that way.

Now, from a consumer standpoint, I believe that we have fundamental rights for our own protection against corporations who are out to use their power and influence to take advantage of people. Our economic model is very good at bringing producers and consumers together, what it isn’t good at is policing some of the fallout of these transactions as the stronger party starts to act in bad faith. We need an element of transparency, and Wikileaks is going to be bringing us a whole lot of it in the coming weeks. The paragraph below has just one example of a scheme by Bank of America that a whistleblower has sent to Wikileaks.

Bank of America, one of the most trusted, and largest, lenders in the country was engaged in a scheme to cheat some of their mortgage holders. You read the whole scheme here, but the basics are simple. Bank of America would stop paying a mortgage holder’s homeowners insurance, they would get cancelled, then B of A would use a subsidiary that they owned and place insurance on the property. The homeowner would be without insurance and B of A would still be collecting a premium monthly from that homeowner on a policy that would only protect B of A’s interest, and not the homeowner’s. Oops! Your house burned down, sorry you aren’t covered. However, Bank of America can make a claim for your mortgage amount to pay themselves the full balance, while you are stuck homeless, no money and still liable for the balance, even though B of A covered their loss already with the money you paid them!

Summing up Wikileaks, I have no problem with leaks that make businesses more transparent and accountable to consumers, as a matter of fact I welcome it. When it comes to military information, and I do believe we certainly need a level of transparency there as well, I think we are safer if Wikileaks didn’t publish that type of information.

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.
Thomas Jefferson


  1. The rumor that the names of Afghan informants were released holds no evidence. If they hadn't made such a big deal of it, kept it off the news, target the websites holding the info, in short, if they had worked underground, we wouldn't be desperate to see the juicy information. In the case that civilians had been endangered, it would have taken a person determined to find that information to do so.

  2. What happens if the information that something like WikiLeaks reveals about a business causes it to up shop? Jobs lost; money for the economy gone; whatever services the business provided gone. Yes, exposing illegal or even just underhanded plans or acts of businesses is important, but I don't believe we can just say that if it exposes a business it's good.

  3. "The rumor that the names of Afghan informants were released holds no evidence."

    You are correct, no specific source I could find had the ability to specifically confirm any names, most were commentaries on the probable types of information contained in the 90,000 documents released.

    However, that doesn't undermine the credibility of the argument I proposed. Some people who are in sensitive positions within our military need anonymity in order to protect themselves and their families. Particularly in our age of global communication.

    When I was in the first Gulf War (20 years ago) we would always burn our letters from home so if we were ever captured or killed nobody would have access to any personal information. Now an enemy combatant with access to the internet could do a search on a particular soldiers family and make them a target half a world away.

    It may seem unlikely, and like you say it would have to be a determined person, but I'd have to make the observation that if you are part of a terrorist group and you are willing to strap a bomb on your back, I'd say you've met the definition of determined.

  4. "What happens if the information that something like WikiLeaks reveals about a business causes it to up shop?"

    I guess that would depend on exactly what information caused it to close. Having a business close after it was discovered stealing or ripping people off I'd have to think most people would agree is a good thing.

    I think the bigger question is just how much privacy is a publicly traded corporation entitled to? This is what I see Wikileaks as pushing the boundary of.

    The financial statements along with a host of other information are all public record, so why not emails and memo's that supported those financial decisions? Shouldn't we as stockholders in the company have a large amount of latitude when it comes to having access to information in a company I own a part of? Even if it is just a small one.

    I don't know if there is a correct balance, but I think that very soon people will be fighting more and more for greater transparency from the once trusted and unquestioned mega-corporations in this country. Particularly in the light of the economic meltdown and all the blow-back from it.