Governments around the world have taken full advantage of technological advances, producing an unparalleled amount of documents and using digital tools to store, organize, retrieve and transmit them within seconds. Rapid information processing has indeed increased the efficiency of governments, allowing them to penetrate and better manage societies – even in democracies.
However, this very same technological progress that has been instrumental in assisting governments can also easily be transported and processed by its enemies. While in the past an imposter might have pilfered a handful of classified documents, stealing hundreds of thousands of them was unimaginable before the information age. Today, it is not only imaginable, it is reality.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently detained by the London police. Yet, he is not behind bars for publishing classified information, but rather for sex charges. There are no laws prohibiting what Wikileaks is doing; publishing stolen documents is not a crime in most democracies. And while the person responsible for leaking the documents might be prosecuted for disclosing work-related secrets, it would be very difficult to take Assange to court over this.
The Wikileaks drama has illustrated the current, serious dilemma leaders face as they attempt to protect government secrets in spite of the information revolution. It is, of course, ironic, that these Western governments, especially the United States, are the ones to now bear the brunt of freedom of information and government transparency – the very principles they have been preaching to the world for years in their effort to create a new world. Indeed ironic they should now pay the price for it.
The best aspect of this modern information and technology revolution is that it has created an atmosphere conducive to challenging the traditional centers of power, and has opened the doors for new powers to rise. This information revolution arms those who are weak and marginalized so that they may redress the balance of power. China, Korea and India are doing this as states and Assange is doing it as an individual.