The Wikileaks controversy has been weighing heavily on my mind and heart.  I can’t imagine a more complex or emotional web-related issue to consider.

I’m conflicted. As a former journalist I value the role of the press as a checks-and-balance in a free society. With the declining resources available through traditional news media, it’s crucial that new media models somehow fill the void. And Wikileaks has undoubtedly exposed some areas of true corruption.

I also appreciate the important and courageous role of the whistle-blower as a soldier against injustice.

But whether you consider Wikileaks and its editor Julian Assange heroic or evil, there some questions that will impact us all …

Will leaks enable peace and political reform or impede it? The prospect of being WikiLeaked will turn nations inward; open sharing of information between countries will decrease. Centralization of secrets, rather than any kind of improved transparency, will be the result of uncensored leaks.  Progressive work in the name of peace just got more difficult it seems. WikiLeaks may be a temporary victory for transparency but will it result in real reform or heightened secrecy?

What ethical guidelines should be observed? The new web mandate seems to be “publish because you can.”  True journalists are conditioned to live with strict codes of conduct to help guard the integrity of the institution and the fact-gathering process. Never mind civility or common sense.  What about basic human morality? Even if you despised a cause or a government, could you personally make a decision to reveal information that could cost an innocent human life?

Shouldn’t some secrets remain secret? Exposing corruption is beneficial. Exposing gossip and information that simply embarrasses is sensational. Publicizing secrets that jeopardize national security could actually be corrosive to freedom, diplomacy and democracy. I know this opens up a whole new debate — who decides what should be a secret?

Isn’t morality absolute? For a moment, go back to September 11, 2001. Wherever you were in the world, you probably experienced deep sadness, shock and horror. Would you feel any differently if Wikileaks shared secrets about America’s operations against Al Quaeda on Sept. 12, 2001?  Is patriotism a matter of timing? Is morality?

What happens when Wikileaks applies to all of us? It’s fine to debate these developments when they involve a third party you will never know but would you feel the same way if you and your family were caught up in the issue? The implications of uncensored publication of “secrets” is profound. It’s fashionable to criticize the U.S. government, but what happens when the leak occurs in your own company?

I’ve been in business a long time. I’ve led teams in the negotiation of multi-billion-dollar contracts and I know that working a high-pressure deal with stakes that enormous can be ugly. It involves diplomacy in every sense of the word. Sometimes we hate what our customers put us through and internal documents and recorded conversations may even reflect that sentiment. In the heat of battle, we may say things in private that would embarrass us in public.

Are internal company documents — that have nothing to do with corruption — fair game for public consumption, too? Would it be OK for me to publish private documents that would embarrass you, destroy business relationships, jeopardize your company … and maybe even end your career and family?

There is a direct parallel between this scenario and what is happening through Wikileaks today.  After all, much of the material that WikiLeaks has published has had little to do with revealing “unethical behavior” in governments and corporations.  It’s voyeurism.

What is this really all about any way? The first suspect arrested from the ensuing cyber-war that erupted after the arrest of Assange was a 16-year-old hacker.  Was this boy a freedom fighter or is it more likely that he was just looking for any excuse to display his considerable skills to hack into a government site?  Is Wikileaks an important evolution in creating institutional transparency or is it just another place for Facebook cyber-bullies to get a thrill? Is this about political reformation or global fame and fortune for Julian Assange?

What is the “check” against Wikileaks? While the threat of leaked documents might provide a check against corruption, what is the balance against a lawless Internet to wield power that might legitimately jeopardize lives and national security?

I know I haven’t provided any answers … but that’s why you’re here.  Are you conflicted as I am, or do you have an idea of where this will lead?  The debate is yours. All views are welcomed in the comment section …

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