"The Public has a right to know"

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by BenTheMan, Nov 29, 2010.

  1. BenTheMan Dr. of Physics, Prof. of Love Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    8,967
    Julian Assange, of wikileaks has, in the past, released reams of documents regarding the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, he's released internal comuniques between US embassies regarding (as I understand it, please correct me) such things as negotiations about the new START treaty, internal assessments of the situation in the middle east, and even day to day (mostly uninteresting) accounts of happenings in various embassies. I would post some links to CNN, but you guys are clever enough to do your own google searches.

    The question is this: to what degree is the statement "The Public has a right to know" true?

    I can buy this argument from people concerned about, say, civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can buy the argument from people who want a public record of the behind-closed-doors decisions which have real consequences in terms of human lives in those countries. Certainly, if you think that the current US conflicts are immoral, then you agree that full disclosure of such documents is important in establishing motive.

    That's fine, and while I don't necessarily agree with you, I can understand your point.

    However, releasing confidential diplomatic cables is a different story. Negotiations regarding, say, the START treaty are in everybody's best interest. The US and Russia have established a very fragile status quo, I think, which is in the interest of the US, Russia, and the rest of the world. Releasing such documents, in my opinion, can only serve to destabilize that relationship. Let me put it another way---if the common goal is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world, then the two people who have the most nuclear weapons need to eliminate those stockpiles. (This is true, and cannot be argued.) If they are to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, they have to trust each other enough to reduce their stockpiles bilaterally---that is to say, the US isn't going to suddenly decide to decommission all of our nuclear deterrent without the Russians making similar commitments. Then, what good does a document release like this really do, other than splash communications which were never meant to be public across the front pages of newspapers around the world? Such an action seems to be wholly counter-productive to the nuclear disarmament process, in my mind.

    At the heart of the issue is this---to what extent does the "public's right to know" conflict with other goals? To what extent should the public's "right to know" be curtailed, when it clearly conflicts with things like public safety, or world peace? Given that, is the release of documents which could reduce safety across the globe by destabilizing relationships between nuclear powers a good idea?

    I probably won't comment in this thread, but I will keep up with it. I also want to point out that it doesn't necessarily matter what the actual content of the document dump is---I was interested in more of a theoretical discussion about the general issue.
     
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  3. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    I'm a believer in full disclosure and transparency. I do not want someone else to decide what I am entitled to know. When the government wants to hide something from me, they are violating my rights as their constituent to know what actions they are taking as my representative. I would prefer a representative who is above board rather than one who criminalises political activities and then tries to escape accountability for his actions by suppressing the release of information about his actions.

    Note that in all cases it is the public which suffers, whether as a consequence of the actions or as a consequence of the leaks. In any case, the public has a right to know why they suffer and who is accountable for the suffering.
     
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  5. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    33,264
    Say your son was in the CIA or KGB and their "cover" was blown by these leaks and their lives were in peril, would that be a good thing for them?
     
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    Yeah, if your occupation is that of a torturer and killer you can hardly use occupational hazard as a justification for non-disclosure. What if my son was a victim of the CIA or KGB? Wouldn't I want to know where his body was buried, even if it was a nameless skeleton in a mass grave?
     
  8. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    33,264
    Two different things there SAM, so you wouldn't mind that your son would be killed if he had his "cover" blown just to keep others in line?
     
  9. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    No, I'm not a believer in undercover operations with no transparency. There is a reason that cops and soldiers wear uniforms.
     
  10. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    53,075
    No, but so far none of the leaks were top secret.
     
  11. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    @cosmictraveler

    question to you. What if the CIA agent was a double agent and evidence of his involvement in a planned nuclear attack on his own country was leaked?

    Would the public have a right to know?

    In Saudi Arabia, the king has suppressed all information pertaining to the wikileaks from being released to the press. What do you think of that?

    Does the public have a right to know?
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2010
  12. Raithere plagued by infinities Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    3,348
    It's one thing to disclose illegal actions and illegal deals made behind closed doors. It is legal and ethical to report crimes. I also feel it is ethical to expose lies by revealing truths.

    However, It's entirely something else to reveal confidential and candid conversations, personal assessments, private information, and private negotiation proceedings. Particularly when done with complete disregard for consequence and for no specific reason.

    To expect that any government can can operate without the protection of privacy and discretion is terribly naive.

    ~Raithere
     
  13. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    33,264
    But again you fail to understand my point. Whether whatever happens, is it right to leak this confidential information if a persons life is at risk? Your question is about something else that would be different from my question.
     
  14. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    Is it really? Is it naive to believe that public servants can operate with transparency? What would you consider are the advantages of secrecy over transparency in public service? As for "confidential and candid" conversations, do such things exist when one works for the people? Can a person invoke the right to privacy for speech or action as a political representative or a public servant?
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2010
  15. Raithere plagued by infinities Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    3,348
    I believe it is naive to think that anyone can. Much less a public servant that has to navigate a volatile, vast, and massively complex political landscape of conflicting interests. This isn't to say that the official actions of government shouldn't largely be transparent. But I find the notion of complete transparency to be something that could only exist in a non-human world. It's rather like communism that way, a nice notion in theory but utterly unrealistic and inapplicable to human society.

    I think this is obvious. If you find your mother-in-law overbearing, judgmental, and a bit scatter-brained do just blurt it out to her and your husband? What would happen if your confidential conversation with a friend about your difficulties in managing a relationship with her was exposed word for word? Would you ever be honest about your relationships again to this friend who betrayed your confidence?

    Yes. Politicians should not be judged based upon what they say but upon what they do and the outcome of those actions.

    ~Raithere
     
  16. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    So according to you, the relationship of the politician with the constituent is that of one friend to another or that of a daughter in law to a mother in law? I beg to differ. I have trained people and employed them and believe me, I do not treat them the way I would a friend or a mother in law. I believe that representatives of the people are working for the people, they are not friends or in-laws. Do you treat your employer or employee with the same latitude as you would a spouse?

    I think we should encourage transparency in politics and when it comes to the embarassment of state representatives exposed as lying left right and center and the preservation of their "privacy" well, I know which way I lean. I can dump an indiscreet friend but what will I do with a government that lacks all credibility?
     
  17. Asguard Kiss my dark side Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    23,049
    There are a couple of things

    1) yes undercover cops and informats need to be protected. Do spies have the same right? I don't know

    2) just because its not criminal doesn't mean its not important. For instance there was a state government report on cutting the budget. Now because it was leaked budget decisions are judged against that report
     
  18. Raithere plagued by infinities Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    3,348
    No, you missed the point which is that we cannot navigate social situations without discretion. Complete disclosure of every conversation and opinion is damaging to any social relationship. Even more so when it is a political relationship.

    It really depends upon what's being revealed. I don't see any point in revealing much of what recently came up on Wikileaks. For example, how does this in any way improve an already difficult situation:

    http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2010/11/29/Europe-reacts-to-WikiLeaks-expose/UPI-25771291063609/

    Or what good does revealing this do anyone:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/29/wikileaks_shocker/

    Does it improve the government somehow to know that these things were stated? Does it improve the global political situation or does it make things more difficult? What's the moral imperative that makes it important to reveal such comments?

    ~Raithere
     
  19. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Messages:
    35,468
    Finding the real story

    One of the things about the WikiLeaks saga that puzzles me is that, as the spokespeople, journalists, and talking heads have all gone on about it, I'm still unsure why anyone is shocked by the contents of these leaks. What is disconcerting to me is the scale of the leaks, the idea that people are, either for disgust or want of fame, actually delivering this much information to WikiLeaks.

    What the leaked documents actually reveal or suggest, however, isn't particularly spectacular to me. Unreported civilian deaths? Not what I would call a big shocker. A plan to spy on UN officials? Not what I would call a big shocker. Demeaning and possibly contemptuous rhetoric about other world leaders? Not what I would call a big shocker. Arab nations with an interest encouraging us to kick the shit out of Iran? Not what I call a big shocker.

    In other words, I haven't heard anything that surprises me, except for the idea that over a half-million pages of "secret" American documents have been so easily delivered to an organization like WikiLeaks. The occasional leak here and there is expected, but this is a pretty big cache of documents. And that surprises me, at least mildly.

    Which is, I think, possibly the real story here.

    I mean, really, who is surprised by the idea that the U.S. has hidden, downplayed, or perhaps simply failed to mention certain civilian casualties in the war? Or that some governments wanted us to thrash it out in Iran? Or that some people in the State Department have poor opinions of Sarkozy, or Berlusconi, or Ahmedinejad? Spying on the UN? I'm pretty sure we've done that before, like back when we were pitching the Iraq invasion. And I'm pretty sure we did it even before that.

    Is there anything we are learning out of these leaks that is truly, genuinely shocking? I'm hard-pressed to find it.

    I mean, even if we include the suggestion that Defense and State are stuck in the last century as far as their security presuppositions are concerned, well, that's not a particularly mindbending idea.
     
  20. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    And I said I don't believe in someone else deciding what I should know about a social relationship that is not intimate or personal. Given a choice between controlled media whether of the variety in KSA or USA and the free press we enjoy in India, I would take the free press every time be it Tehelka or Newstrack or the internet. I think Americans are lucky that they have access to the internet, to sources of news like wikileaks and al Jazeera otherwise they would be even more unaware of what their govt is doing than they are now. If it were up to the GOI, we would not be able to access any books or movies that were considered "offensive" and leaks about what happens behind closed doors in political circles would become taboo if every editor was treated the way the Shiv Sena treats Nikhil Wagle. Fortunately, we live in a society where we consider the law to be a tool of the people rather than a weapon of the government.


    Agreed. The volume of data is really surprising. But if you've ever downloaded stuff from a mainframe, you'd realise its quite the norm if you have no idea what you are looking for.

    If I had the time [and inclination] I would sort everything by country and policy to see what kind of diplomatic hoops were being jumped. e.g. cables sent from Washington to KSA and Israel re:Iran, to Iran re:Israel, to Israel re:KSA, to KSA re: Israel. I bet it would make for some very interesting patterns
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2010
  21. superstring01 Moderator

    Messages:
    12,110
    I'm torn.

    I'll be honest, I'm having trouble caring about Wikileaks latest release.

    On one hand, I am fully aware that all governments--even the best of them--need to be able to keep secrets. To think otherwise is naïve. On the other hand, I also believe in--what you say--full disclosure and transparency. I don't really have a solid definition as to where one begins and the other ends, but on this particular issue, I'm really having trouble caring. Our allies and quasi-allies all know our warts, it will come as no surprise to fellow diplomats that their American counterparts trash-talk and share embarrassing tidbits of info.

    ~String
     
  22. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    72,822
    I don't know how Americans view their government representatives, because I've heard some of them declare they don't live in a democracy. Well I live in a democracy and I consider the state representatives to be on par with every voting adult with the same rights and responsibilities. Especially social responsibilities. If it would not be condoned in an adult Indian then it should not be condoned in a political representative. I am of the opinion that the means do not always justify the ends and giving latitude for criminal behaviour and freedom from accountability to political representatives is a slippery slope that ultimately creates more problems than it solves

    Just think about it. Would you trust a lawyer who kept confidential the contract he was hired to write out? What is your opinion of a doctor who only discloses that part of your medical record which does not make him liable for medical malpractice? Would you prefer to be judged in a courtroom where you were not privy to the information used against you? Public service is just that: public service. If they have to keep it secret, then they are doing it all wrong
     
  23. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    9,391
    Is anyone? I agree that this seems to entirely amount to the publication of what have long been "open secrets."

    It's been argued elsewhere (and I tend to agree) that the most interesting part of these recent publications is that it unequivocably demonstrates the wide disconnect between the public statements and stances of Arab states, and their private statements to the US. This is again an "open secret," but one that was useful to the parties as such - it enabled everyone to hear what they wanted to hear, and discount what they didn't (Americans get to write off public statements, while the Arab street could turn a blind eye to back-room dealings).

    The question is what impact the publications will have, given the long-standing divergence in public and private stances from these states. If the Arab leaders get into a lot of hot water over this, then probably their private stances will come to resemble their public rhetoric more closely. On the other hand, if the Arab street does not present the leadership with problems, the public rhetoric will come to resemble the private stances (and the whole bogeyman of the Arab street may become a historical relic). What is difficult to imagine is a continuance of the status quo, and I find that prospect rather interesting.
     

Share This Page