One of the most ominous developments in the current conflict over Wikileaks has been the move in some quarters to define the publication of leaked information as something more than just ‘irresponsible’ or ‘criminal’ (e.g. ‘theft’ or even ‘espionage’). I have a lot of difficulty with those kinds of labels anyway, but it was only a matter of time before we saw serious, official calls for such activities to be defined as ‘terrorism’.
The Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Laszlo Kover, yesterday called for the action of leaking confidential and secret information to be redefined as ‘information terrorism’. He seemed to be referring here not just to Wikileaks but to all ‘online news reporting’, in other words, he is advocating treating those who report on such information as ‘terrorists’ too.
Terrorism, let us not forget, is the use of violence to influence politics, in other words to impose one’s political will through fear of death or injury. There is no way in the world that one can argue rationally that releasing information that allows people to see what happens inside the organisations making claims to rule over us, or act on our behalf, is that kind of violence, indeed it is highly irresponsible to try to associate the term with any processes of nonviolent communication.
The problem is that to many people this probably doesn’t seem unreasonable – people already talk about ‘information war’ as if that meant something clear and comprehensible. But this kind of action would be to extend the definition of terrorism, already stretched to breaking point by legislative changes in the USA, UK and other western countries, into the realm of freedom of speech and the politics of transparency and accountability.
Since 9/11, we have seen a gradual movement, at first indirect and associational as with John Robb’s talk of the ‘open-source insurgency’ back in 2005, and now increasingly overt, to define the advocates of openness and transparency as terrorists. This must be resisted before it takes root in any kind of legislation because ultimately this means that the Internet itself, the communications architecture which supports such activity, is portrayed as the vehicle for such ‘information terrorism.’ This will simply increase the movement of the drive to close the Net away from a crazy, fascistic notion (which it is) towards ‘common-sense.’ It will stifle the development of any genuine global polity.
What to do? Well the first thing is to respond immediately any time something like this is said by any politician or even commentator. This kind of talk should remain in the realm of the ridiculous and the repressive. We need to change the direction of the discourse.