Wikileaks and government of the people

I just learned that the State Department is telling universities to pass along to students that linking to or publicly commenting on the Wikileaks documents would put the kibosh on attempts to get a security clearance or work with the government, because it would “call into question your ability to deal with confidential information.” The government still considers those documents to be classified.

Well, I’ve not written anything about the Wikileaks documents yet, but this challenge is too much. I don’t ever wish to work for our government, so here goes.

My view on this from the get-go has been that we must separate the leak from the publishing of the documents, for they are two different acts. The former could easily be argued as treason in a time of war, but the latter is an act of journalism and demands protection under the First Amendment. The two cannot be mixed, for all kinds of bad policy can result.

The First Amendment is “the first,” because freedoms of religion and speech are the essence of America. The opposite are what the colonists fled, and we owe our unique brand of freedom — in great part — from the underpinnings of this amendment to the Constitution. Julian Assange is being vilified in many quarters today, even being referenced as a “rapist” by our friends at Fox, and many of those doing the vilifying are journalists. This is the pinnacle, it seems to me, of what’s wrong with our trade and why something different needs to take its place. The problem is that the First Amendment doesn’t have qualifiers, and the simple fact that the government is trying to stop the Leaks’ distribution ought to sound alarms everywhere. I don’t care what’s in the documents; Assange’s right to publish them trumps their content — always.

When Abraham Lincoln lifted John Wycliffe’s famous quote about a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” he left out the first half of Wycliffe’s sentence: “This book (the common language Bible) shall make possible government of the people, by the people and for the people.” It was possible, in Wycliffe’s view, because people with an internal governor — adherence to the commands in the Bible — needed only limited help from outside, and this is something historians sadly disregard. Where we’ve landed today is a softening internal governor and a strengthening external one, and this terrifies me for the future. We need checks on our government more than ever, and Wikileaks has provided a fresh breeze and a little daylight, regardless of how uncomfortable it has made some people.

You can argue whatever you want about the leaks themselves. That’s fine. But don’t confuse the publishing of those documents with the act of theft that put them in Assange’s hands.

I guess I’m now not eligible for government service. Damn!

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