Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cablegate Is Another Gate to Democracy

Wikileaks has published thousands of cables to and from a number of US Embassies, revealing the diplomatic negotiations behind the scenes. They call it Cablegate. There is a lot of gates, these days, that governments struggle to keep shut. No can do in the Internet era. Learn to live with it.

Hillary Clinton is furious. She is far from alone. Her indignation hides behind security reasons, but what scares Hillary and her colleagues the most is the increasing difficulty to keep secrets secret. This is relatively new to leaderships around the world, and they don't want to adapt. In spite of their claim to be democratic, they want to decide what the voting public shall know about their actions.

Free Speech for Real
The Internet has changed the world, and continues to do so, more than we are able to imagine today. Secrets, discretion, centralized control of the flow of information – these are things of the past. News now travels with the speed of light, and spreads like a flu, without passing through the scrutiny and concern of some Editor in Chief. Anybody with Internet access can reach out to the whole world.

That's wonderful, of course, but a nightmare to old style politicians – and that's still pretty much all of them. Before the Internet, the sources to publication were slow enough to hinder and few enough to suppress. But you can't do that with whole populations. Word will get around, views will be expressed, no matter how provocative they might be.

The Wikileaks website is now being attacked with such power that it is frequently unreachable, and such a broadside to it might need substantial resources to be accomplished. It's not yet known who is behind these attacks, but let's just say that several governments in the world don't mind at all.

Not that it will function to keep the Cablegate material away from the public for long, but it reveals what many government bodies try to do: control the Internet, so that they can decide what will be spread on it, and what will not.

They want to return to a society of censorship.

They blame it on the need for security, the fight against terrorism, racism, pedophilia, or whatever. But the bottom line is that the governments simply abhor the free word when for the first time in history, anybody's voice can reach the whole world.

Society Doesn't Move Backwards
In China, great parts of the Internet are censored, and some huge international companies assist the Chinese government in this. In Europe, the EU organizes a massive mapping of Internet activity, even every email sent, archiving it for the purported reason of fighting terrorism. These things will increase. Governments don't let go of their control without a fight.

They will lose it. Society doesn't move backwards, at least not for more than a little while. The governing bodies and mechanisms are not homogenous enough for total control to be possible, and the Internet is a maze already to begin with.

I'm not sure that the Cablegate material will reveal any surprising scandals of sensational dimensions. It seems at first glance mainly to say that politicians and their diplomats usually discuss every option before deciding on their actions, which is not only expected but also a responsible way of handling power. The cables also show that governments are keen to manipulate each others as well as the public. Well – duh!

What is revealed by Cablegate as well as any other gate is the same: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

That's not news, but we need to constantly remind ourselves, or the misuse of power will escalate to absurdity, and our leaders become dictators. Democracy is not guaranteed by our votes on election day, but by how we act in between elections, what we accept and what we protest.

Cablegate is not a lesson for governments, for they are hopelessly slow learners. The lesson is for us, the people, who ultimately decide, on a daily basis, what authority to grant our leaders.


I love the Internet. For the first time, everybody can reach out and speak their mind, without having to pass through censorship or editorial scrutiny. Therefore, the Internet has become the very most precious instrument of democracy, and needs to be protected accordingly. I'd like to see a new amendment in every Constitution of the world to this effect.

Politicians will not volunteer to make it happen, but they might feel forced to oblige in their constant pursuit for votes. Even if they do it hypocritically, it's good to have it done.

1 comment:

  1. "They call it Cablegate. There is a lot of gates, these days, that governments struggle to keep shut. No can do in the Internet era. Learn to live with it."
    So true, so true.

    ReplyDelete