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Standing with the Net

Life is complex, but sometimes it comes down to taking sides.

I don’t mean about Wikileaks. As Micah Sifry [twitter: mlsif] has tweeted, “I don’t know if I’m pro-Wikileaks, but I know I’m anti-anti-Wikileaks.”

Me, too. Especially when the full power of government and commerce is unleashed against it. Wikileaks embodies transitional ambiguity in several intersecting, crucial social processes normally handled unambiguously by traditional institutions. So, ambivalence is a proper response, and, arguably the only proper response. (For contrast, see the right-wing American Enterprise Institute’s reaction, by Mark Thiessen.)

I know I’m anti-anti-Wikileaks not because I know I like Wikileaks (although I do lean that way). It’s not Wikileaks that has summoned the wrath of the incumbents. It’s the Internet. The incumbents have now woken up to the Net’s nature, and are deploying every weapon they can find against it, including siccing Interpol on Julian Assange for incidents of what were reportedly consensual sex. (You’ve probably already read Naomi Wolf’s scathing, hilarious response.) [Later that day: Wolf’s casual assertions are likely wrong. The charges are more serious than what I said.] As Milton Mueller writes at the Internet Governance Project:

Whatever one’s opinion about the wisdom, responsibility and ethical justification of the revelations, it has shown that there is a new countervailing force in the world that the militarists and diplomats don’t know how to control yet. This is, on the whole, a good thing. It is true that the disclosure power Wikileaks invoked can be abused. It can do real damage. But in relative terms, it is far more benign that the power it is being used against in this case and its legitimacy resides more in public opinion than anything else. The hysteria generated by foreign policy hawks polarizes the world around the internet and its capabilities and shows that, all too often, those who claim to be defenders of freedom are its worst enemies.

Denizens of the Net are choosing sides. To my dismay, Amazon and eBay’s PayPal have decided that they are on the Net but not of the Net. When it comes down to it, they have decided they don’t really care for the Internet all that much, except as a low-friction cash register. How we would have rejoiced if Amazon and eBay had stood up to those who want to stop the flow of information that they don’t like. Instead they folded.

Amazon’s capitulation is especially disappointing. It has so benefited from its enlightened ideas about trust and openness. Yet, because karma does occasionally get itself out of bed in the morning, they will pay: What business is going to trust its data to Amazon’s cloud, knowing that one phone call from Senator McScrooge is enough to get Amazon to inspect or destroy its data?

I have my leanings, but I am ambivalent about everything in the past fifteen year’s messy cultural, societal transition. But my ambivalence shows up in how to navigate on the unambivalent ground on which I stand. I stand with the Net.

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