The publication of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified material on WikiLeaks has sparkled debate on whether technology is threatening national security and how governments should deal with information leaks caused or amplified by technology.
It is fair to say, as many commentators have, that this is nothing new, and what is new is probably the scale, due to how fast information can be shared today. Also, there is nothing new in how few people have looked into what WikiLeaks has actually published, and how most people have relied on what the press quoted.
Of course, episodes like these can have a negative impact on open government initiatives, as new measure to intensify security may stifle also the availability of public information, as highlighted in this NextGov article. On the other hand, better information scrutiny and enforcement of codes of conduct may contribute to increasing the quality of information that gets published. Even if we switch from a firehose to a trickle of open data, what is important is that such data is accurate and that it demonstrably contribute to creating public value.
What WikLeaks shows, in fact, is that – irrespective of how data has been acquired – those who are willing to put effort into publishing are the usual suspects: press, political activists and the likes. WikiLeaks also shows that they have means to acquire information that we, normal people, do not. So what’s the point of throwing open data to people if the main result is to make cheaper for usual suspects to make their cases?
So, while I am sure that many will look at WikiLeaks as a threat to openness, I actually believe it is a good thing. It may turn to be an overdue call for open government proponents and enthusiasts that they should start targeting those (be they individuals, groups or communities) who do not have the resources or the interest for reading and mashing up data, but could benefit from that in the context of their everyday lives. Lives where what politicians and state department officers say behind close doors is of rather limited interest.