Thursday, December 9, 2010

The illusion of secrecy

Earlier this week, students at Columbia's International and Public Affairs school were advised not to discuss any WikiLeaks material online. The recommendation came from a Columbia alumnus who now works at the State Department, and who argued that ""Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government."

As the linked article notes, Columbia's administration quickly reversed itself on this issue, fortunately. Nonetheless, the episode reminded me of Solzhenitsyn's First Circle, in which Soviet scientists must lock away their top-secret research documents in a safe every night, so the imperialist spies won't be able to steal them — except this top-secret research consists mainly of Western science journals, since Western science is far ahead of the Soviets. (It's been years since I read Solzhenitsyn, so apologies for a somewhat hazy description)

It is similarly absurd to pretend that the material leaked by Wikileaks is still in some way secret or confidential. Fortunately for Columbia students, their administration is a little less delusional than the Soviet regime was; still, their instinctual reaction is telling.

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