Although the face of WikiLeaks was being held at a British jail on Tuesday, his incarceration did not slow the website’s release of a new set of confidential U.S. diplomacy cables to the public, according to reports from the Associated Press.
Julian Assange, the spokesperson for WikiLeaks, was arrested and is facing possible extradition to Sweden for several sexual assault charges.
WikiLeaks, which claims to be a “nonprofit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public,” has crept into the spotlight several times since its founding in 2006, but has recently come under fire for its release of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables. These cables are essentially reports of communications and discussions among various diplomats.
The site is known for leaking confidential documents and videos from anonymous sources around the world in the hopes of revealing governmental corruption and oppression.
According to the WikiLeaks website, the information found in the cables concerns U.S. spying, the ignoring of human rights abuses, lobbying and corruption. Much of the information receiving media attention has included confidential discussions between administration leaders and name-calling of prominent world leaders.
The biggest WikiLeaks controversy, however, pits the demand for governmental transparency against the possibility that the leaked information could endanger national security.
Sam Bell, assistant professor of political science at K-State, whose research focuses on governmental transparency, said while there were a few small revelations in the cables — for example, the revelation of U.S. espionage — most of the information found was simply diplomats engaging in diplomacy.
“The reason we want transparency is we think it leads to accountability,” he said. “In principle, you might say having the organization might make it more likely that they’re held accountable, but it’s hard to identify how this holds anybody accountable.
“When it comes to transparency, it’s difficult where to draw the line. Once you create a mechanism for the government not to provide information, it’s hard to keep that line consistent.”
Bell said when considering governmental transparency, one must ask, “is the information useful?”
The complexity of the WikiLeaks controversy revolves around what information is being released, and whether or not the information is harmful or helpful.
While the release of the U.S. diplomacy cables has come under fire by several administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, other information already released could work in holding the government responsible for its actions.
A video released on the WikiLeaks site in April, called “Collateral Murder,” shows classified military video of a 2007 U.S. Army attack in Iraq, which left two journalists dead.
Bell said while some of the information released by the organization might not be useful, videos like this can work to create accountability.
“This is another instance where — as disappointing as those videos are — these are the types of things that it is useful for citizens within the U.S. to have access to,” he said. “You’re seeing information for citizens to hold their government accountable.
“There can be a good use for these types of organizations. They can have good consequences. Revelation of information like that is useful.”
Other information released on the website has included procedures at Guantanamo Bay, war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, e-mail conversation between top climate scientists, documentation of a nuclear accident in Iran and, according to the AP, recent cables that list sites said to be critical to U.S. national security.
This controversial leak of information has prompted governments and companies to attempt to censor or disallow access to the WikiLeaks website. These efforts have included companies like Amazon refusing to host the site, and domain name systems shutting down the WikiLeaks.org domain.
In recent months, several accounts WikiLeaks received donations through, including PayPal, Visa and MasterCard, have cut ties with the organization.
And while efforts have been made to shut down WikiLeaks, the organization is working to fight the attacks, testing just how censorship-resistant their infrastructure can actually be.
Eugene Vasserman, assistant professor in computing and information sciences, said no matter how resilient the website might seem, WikiLeaks is only partially resistant to censorship.
“The system that WikiLeaks built may be partially censorship-resistant in practice, but it is being slowly eroded because the resistance is only partial in theory,” Vasserman said.
The basis of Vasserman’s research includes creating a new generation of censorship-resistant systems. He said one way to improve censorship-resistance in theory and in practice is to aggressively mirror the censored content, or provide sites that replicate the original sites’ content, something that is increasingly happening with WikiLeaks’ data.
“It’s serving the goal of censorship-resistance quite nicely,” he said about the mirroring efforts.
According to its website, WikiLeaks currently has 1,005 mirroring websites.
Vasserman said the technological trick to creating censorship-resistant systems is to ensure that access to the information cannot be blocked.
He said one way WikiLeaks has worked toward this is by using Tor, a system that provides technology to run “hidden services,” or servers that conceal information about their operators such as identities and location.
Vasserman said when it comes to censorship-resistant systems in general, they can be a double-edged sword.
“It’s the edge of the blade. You don’t know where you’re going to fall on it with a given document. That information may be dangerous if some people have access to it, and beneficial if others have access to it,” he said. “When you take one, it’s very hard to get it without the other.”