Isn't WikiLeaks fun? I mean, who couldn't snicker a bit at the U.S. offering Slovenia a visit from President Obama if Slovenia would take a Gitmo detainee off our hands in exchange? How many of us did not smile when we heard that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi is afraid to fly over water or that the Chinese think North Korea's Kim Jong-il is "quite a good drinker?" And don't we all find it amusing that the State Department thinks the President of Azerbaijan is a cross between Michael and Sonny Corleone?
Petty little jealousies, wild paranoias, bold bribes, shady deals -- the latest WikiLeaks scandal has it all. It reads like a bad soap opera. In reality, it is just plain bad... and dangerous.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been furiously trying to repair U.S. relations with other nations and leaders in the wake of the WikiLeaks document dump. There is little question that leaders who were unflatteringly portrayed in the U.S. communiqués are now less friendly toward the United States. It will clearly be more difficult for the U.S. to be an "honest broker" in Middle East peace talks now that everyone knows it is possible their talks with the U.S. will be leaked. Oh yes, WikiLeaks was fun, but it has harmed the U.S. on the global stage.
There is a reason our language contains words like "whisper" and "secret" and "private." Some things simply are not meant for everyone to know. We need to be able to whisper so others do not hear. We need to have secrets and keep some things private. But that is not what Julian Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks, thinks. He proudly says he wants a "society without secrets."
Of course, the major secrets Assange is worried about right now are his own. He has been arrested in London in connection with a sexual assault case in Sweden. Assange claims he has more leaked information that he will dump if he goes to trial. In his words, it is a "thermonuclear device" of documents.
Having repeatedly embarrassed the U.S. Government, Assange says his next target of involuntary transparency is corporate America. He claims to have documents that could "take down a bank or two." Wall Street seems to think that Assange has something damaging on Bank of America as that company's stock took a hit when Assange said early next year he will release a leak from a major bank.
Make no mistake, some leaks are for the common good. There are people over the years who stood up and revealed harmful secrets being kept by the tobacco industry, ENRON, the U.S. Military at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere. Those people are heroes. Julian Assange is not. Leaks without considering the implications are dangerous.
Corporate America needs to start dealing with privacy now! For years, the assumption has been that companies needed to save everything. Maybe the time has come to consider more impermanent communications -- communications that cannot be leaked because they no longer exist after they have served their usefulness. The same privacy issues that individuals are dealing with, the same problems that the U.S. government now suddenly understands, businesses need to think and act now or they will face the same kind of problems.
In some ways, maybe what WikiLeaks did is not all bad. Maybe it can serve as a warning and get all of us -- businesses, individuals, and governments -- to think a bit more about how to keep private the stuff that is supposed to stay private.