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Whistleblowers, Leaks and Secrets

June 2, 2013

Two trends seem to be taking information gathering and dissemination in our society in diametrically opposed directions. Our personal lives are becoming more and more an open book subject to the ever-increasing scrutiny of corporations and government alike. At the same time, our government appears to have become shrouded in an unprecedented degree of secrecy.

Whistleblowers, journalists and others seeking to unmask questionable practices of government and corporate entities are increasingly subjected to attack by those wishing to maintain secrecy and keeping the people uninformed as to what they are up to. The nature and scope of what is being done using our tax dollars and in our names both here and abroad, is hidden from us, often in the name of “national security” or in the battles being wages in the “war on Terror”. Electronic surveillance and the ability to gather and compile huge amounts of data, along with the ability to do so with or without our individual awareness of its scope, creates the ability for enormous breaches of what we have always considered to be our right to individual privacy.

Some of this intrusiveness we see as a societal good. Video surveillance makes it far more difficult for many criminal acts to be committed without the perpetrators being identified and subsequently brought to justice. The rapid identification of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing is a recent example of this. DNA testing can also be used to identify criminals ( or exonerate the innocent). However, other aspects of the information gathering capacity of modern technology are not as welcome. Most would be utterly shocked to know the totality of the information regarding them that is easily accessible to anyone with sufficient knowledge of use of the internet. This includes, of course, people and corporations attempting to separate them from their money by whatever means necessary.

Law enforcement and spy agencies have a wide range of abilities to gain information that were not available to them until relatively recently. Legal frameworks for using the technology available, as well as protecting individuals from unwarranted and unwanted intrusion by the government are often non-existent or have not been adequately defined for us to even know when our rights may have been violated by the government in gathering information. What are the limits, and who determines checks and balances? Are our 4th and 5th Amendment rights obsolete now that the technology is so pervasive and invasive that there is hardly anything describable as a private conversation or correspondence any longer?

Meanwhile, lip service has often been paid by political leaders to the concept of transparency in government. We expect to be informed, within limits, of what our government is trying to do and how. Few expect 100% transparency. Most know the need for a certain amount of secrecy, especially during wartime (though the meaning of what constitutes war seems to be slipping into almost indefinability since 9/11). However, it seems like the need for secrecy is increasingly being invoked to override the public right to know what its government is doing to further the national interest.

Investigative journalists have been unearthing scandals of various sorts where corruption and abuse of power by government departments, agencies and/or elected and appointed officials have been prosecuted, removed from office and even imprisoned for their crimes for generations. Wars have been brought into a new light by leaks such as the Pentagon Papers. Information has come to light that was not really a secret at all – except from the American people. Cambodians new full well they were being carpet-bombed by American aircraft way before the American public had any knowledge of it. The Watergate scandal forced a President to resign in disgrace.

Turning the revelation of illegal or questionable activity by part of the government into a crime is wrong. National Security is used way too frequently, in my view, as an excuse to cover-up acts committed by our government that most of us would find abhorrent if we knew about them. We collectively are responsible for what our government does and fails to do to our fellow citizens and to the rest of the world. We need to know what our government is doing so we can act to change its course should it stop reflecting our values. That is one of the reasons why Freedom of the Press has been valued throughout our history – as another check so that government cannot run roughshod over the collective will of the people.

Cowing journalists into submission with the threat of imprisonment under charges of aiding and abetting an ill-defined enemy when they are performing their ages-old function in our society is wrong. People like Manning and Hammonds, if guilty (and they have pled so to some charges), will go to jail. Most of the information they provided, however, should never have been kept secret from us in the first place, in my opinion.

A balance must be struck that both protects us from excessive governmental and corporate (corporations, after all, provide much of the information to the government) intrusion into our everyday lives and forces the government to keep us more fully informed as to what it does in our name and how. We do not need a future government that has learned how to quash dissent to such an extent that another Watergate or Iraq War can happen with no consequences to the guilty parties. The whistleblowers exposing illegal conduct by others should not be punished more severely than the perpetrators of the activities that they expose.

 

Suggested Further Readings:

Yes, Big Brother Is Watching You

Justice Department seizure of phone records an unprecedented intrusion

Wikileaks Hacktivist Jeremy Hammonds Faces Up To 10 Years in Prison

Bradley Manning’s Court Martial Trial Starts Monday

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11 Comments
  1. Not passing a Jobs Bill, failing to enact Gun legislation, allowing Meals on Wheels funding to lapse, raising student loan interest rates, not passing the Fair pay act, allowing our infrastructure to crumble are all things I know our government is doing or not doing. That is horrible enough for me.

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  2. Don’t forget that things have changed during the past 30 years or so – government intrusion actually IS corporate intrusion. After all, who owns our government these days? Often, military contracts that government attempts to eliminate to cut the budget are kept afloat by corporate tools in Congress. And, information gathering has become a partnership between business and government. Look at how Facebook sends all of the information they’ve gathered directly to the FBI. Wall Street is the senior partner and Washington, for the most part, obeys as the junior partner. We NEED to vote ALL corporate-owned politicians out of office and elect REPRESENTATIVES. People need to remember that WE need to be represented – not the wealthy corporate executives who practically wipe their asses with the money we work hard for. Peace.

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  3. I’m still trying to grasp the importance of the surveillance fear. Maybe I’m “blocked” mentally on this issue, but I don’t see a problem. Surveillance is necessary to keep our country safe. Revealing or what some might feel is questionable activities will give the enemy the power. While I don’t condone carpet bombing Cambodia, I choose that over sending troops. Unless the government starts curtailing US citizens rights, I don’t see the problem.

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    • kcbill13 permalink

      Tess,
      The issue of surveillance is that it gives an illusion of security, not real security. It is an after the fact issue. Occasionally it helps catch a perpetrator who damages property after the fact.

      But in London, the most surveilled city in the world, it did nothing to stop terror attacks. In fact the police then killed an innocent suspect in the aftermath.

      The evidence is in. Very few crimes are stopped by surveillance cameras. By all means, carry on in shopping centers and the like.

      But I would be for permanant cameras recording all meetings where decisions on spending public money by any govt body at all levels. And subsequent prosecution of any vested interests getting public funds by any level of politicians.

      Cheers

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  4. Say What News permalink

    Reblogged this on forthe1789usconstitution and commented:
    A great post from a good friend… #SayWhatNewsApproved

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  5. exposing the Criminal Actions of the gangs entrusted to prevent Criminal Actions, is a Criminal Act!
    WTF

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  6. curtismorrison permalink

    Interesting rule proposal. (The whistleblowers exposing illegal conduct by others should not be punished more severely than the perpetrators of the activities that they expose.)

    I’d propose a variation: A whistleblowers with the subjective belief she is exposing illegal conduct, shall be granted amnesty for any alleged crimes in procuring evidence of the conduct, or exposing said conduct.

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  7. kcbill13 permalink

    Good article Rick. Agree with everything but surveillance cameras, an after the fact solution that does not justify costs in any way. See London, security payoff. Didn’t happen. An illusion of security, although they do help stop theft from cars in car parks.

    But a balance would seem good on national security. I would be happy if we at least enforced the 4th amendment again. And looked backwards on torture crimes.

    Cheers.

    kcbill13

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  8. EXCELLENT REPORT
    I feel strongly that had 911 NOT HAPPENED we wouldn’t be having this debate! I blame all the world’s problems from Terrorism to Environmental Pollution to a group of ELITISTS, GREEDY INDIVIDUALS & DAMN POLITICIANS & BIG CORPORATIONS
    from OIL TO BANKING & WALLSTREET
    For CREATING 911 Resulting in ISIS STEMMING FROM THE IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN WARS!

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  9. l8in permalink

    Reblogged this on L8in.

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