Wikileaks “reign of terror” looks set to be at an end, with the site shut down, and founder Julian Assange due to be arrested on charges of sexual assault.
The site has raised some questions regarding when press freedom crosses the line to become “terrorism” and the public’s right to know what their governments really get up to.
Revelations of secret US cables this week have led Assange to go into “hiding” in the south east of the UK, and resulted in a certain gun-toting US presidential hopeful asserting he should be hunted like a member of Al Qaeda.
Some of the information in the leaked cables certainly seems superfluous.
For example, do we really care that a British Royal was rude to a foreign trade delegation, or that the US regards foreign diplomats and politicians as boorish fools?
The answer depends on whether you buy Assange’s assertion that western media is increasingly controlled by governments keen to gag publication of any information that could damage their electability.
Several mainstream columnists have been quick to defend Assange’s right to publish.
The UK’s Mail on Sunday suggested the leaks are a poke in the eye for governments that ride rough shod over their citizen’s fears regarding personal information held in secret databases.
“Perhaps now their own secrecy has been breached, our rulers will at last begin to grasp that the fears of private individual’s on this score are real and justified,” it noted.
But freedom of the press works in both directions, meaning George Grant was free to question why Assange is so heavily focused on the US in an article in The Telegraph.
“Where are the ‘Chinese Embassy Cables’? What has become of the ‘Iran Files’? Whither the ‘Chechnya War Logs’?” he asks.
Bear in mind that Assange walked out of a CNN interview in October when quizzed about the sexual assault allegations that led Sweden to issue the arrest warrant in the first place.
That incident adds a curious spin to columnist Ray Greenslade’s comment in London’s Evening Standard. “Journalists are in the disclosure business. Revealing secrets is part of our trade description.”
Perhaps all that Wikileaks has shown us is that, in the connected society, it is becoming increasingly hard for states to hold onto their secrets.
News is published online 24 hours a day, and the range of Web-capable mobile devices mean you no longer need to be a seasoned hack to do so. Just film it and upload to YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.
When Assange is arrested – likely to happen very soon given he’s already told UK police where he is – it will bring the curtain down on Wikileaks, but you can expect a dozen more similar sites to spring up to fill its shoes.
The genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and national rulers simply need to get with the program or turn out the lights as they get booted out of office.