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Wikileaks and mass hysteria

December 8, 2010
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There is nothing so effective as a common enemy to bring even the most bitter opponents together. In that light, Wikileaks is something of a godsend for U.S. politicians. Nevermind the fact that most of the information released by Wikileaks will not even cause so much as a ruffle in our relations with most nations, and where it does harm, it is likely in areas where harm is already being done. Despite the rather unspectacular nature of the information released thus far, it hasn’t stopped any number of politicians from grandstanding. A small sample from hundreds of statements:

  • U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York “has said Assange should be prosecuted for espionage. He also said that the United States should classify WikiLeaks as a terrorist group so that ‘we can freeze their assets.’ And he called Assange an enemy combatant.” (from CNN)
  • U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky “I think the man is a high-tech terrorist … He has done enormous damage to our country. And I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” (also from CNN)

Perhaps Assange has broken U.S. law. In fact, he likely has. But is it necessary/helpful to call anyone who commits a crime with respect to the United States a terrorist? Besides, Assange is not a U.S. citizen, of course, so unless he is a moron he will avoid extradition to the U.S.

Really, Cablegate is not the end of the world, so do we need the apocalyptic rhetoric? Of course we do. With record deficits, an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and a lingering bad economy, Congress needs something to distract the U.S. population. Privately, many of them must be ecstatic that Assange and Wikileaks gave them this gift.

Bringing this back to libraries, it is dismaying to see the Library of Congress take the step of filtering Wikileaks from its computers. This is the kind of issue where the ethics of librarians are put to the test. Refusing to filter Wikileaks would lead to bad press and librarians could add “terrorist lover” to the list of epithets we have been called (“porn peddlers” is my personal favorite), but it is the right thing to do if we take our ethical code seriously.

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