Wikileaks is planning to drop 1,000,000+ Documents In Near Future
Julian Assange has not given much detail on what the nature of the documents will be, except to say that they will “affect every country in the world.”
If these documents are standard Wikileaks fare, they will probably include embarrassing and/or scandalous matter about large powerful institutions—world governments in particular. Moreover, the diffusion of these documents will no doubt leave some grumbling about the risks attendant to their disclosure.
There are understandable arguments in favor of such a position. Critics of Wikileaks appear to favor government secrecy on certain topics because they believe it to be a necessary predicate to good governance (e.g. keeping information about matters of national security matters classified). Thomas Jefferson, during his time as President, noted that:
[T]he Executive ought to communicate such papers as the public good would permit, and ought to refuse those, the disclosure of which would injure the public …
The fundamental flaw of this apparently reasonable position, however, is that there is no way to determine when the government is keeping information out of public hands for legitimate purposes. This is undoubtedly why many of Jefferson’s contemporaries took hardline stances in the other direction. Here is John Adams:
[The People] have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees. And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.
A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.I was struck dumb with astonishment at the sentiments … [t]hat the executive alone shall have the right of judging what shall be kept secret, and what shall be made public, and that the representatives of a free people, are incompetent to determine on the interests of those who delegated them … .
The legitimacy of Democratic governance depends on consent of the governed. It is impossible for people to consent to acts of which they had no knowledge. And if history is any guide on the matter, government secrecy is invoked at least as often to ensure that the public remains uninformed of acts of official wretchedness carried out in their name, as it is to secure the blessings of confidentiality to sensitive information.
Such a state of affairs is intolerable in a free society. As Thomas Paine noted in the Dissertations, “In republics, such as those established in America, the sovereign power, or the power over which there is no control, and which controls all others, remains where nature placed it—in the people[.]” Government secrecy, no matter how well intentioned, subverts that control by ensuring that people cast their votes ignorant to potentially embarrassing, disagreeable, or perhaps even shocking actions which the government carries out in their name. One cannot vote against something they have knowledge of. And being ignorant of the same, a person would have little reason to. And therein, as they say, lies the problem.