In the ongoing debacle over the release of State Department cables, the government is yet again demonstrating they really have no idea how the Internet works. Apparently, Sen. Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens really was the technical wizard in Washington.
While the government’s embarrassment over the publication of the documents is certainly understandable, it’s response is anything but. There have been repeated calls by politicians and pundits to prosecute Wikileaks and/or it’s founder Julian Assange. Sen. Diana Feinstein wants to prosecute on charges of espionage. (That’s at least plausible as opposed to calls from the likes of Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee that this is somehow treason or terrorism.) Yet, everyone seems to keep overlooking that all Wikileaks did was publish the documents. They didn’t steal them. They didn’t aid or abet the theft. They may have been the first to publish, but the desire to prosecute them stems from a woefully misguided notion that if Wikileaks hadn’t done what they did, these documents never would have seen the light of day. That’s sheer sophistry. In a day and age where everyone can publish anything on the Internet, someone somewhere would have put these documents online. PFC Bradly Manning, awaiting trial for stealing the documents, could have found any number of willing publishers, hackers, or tech-savvy malcontents to publish his booty, or even uploaded them himself. Wikileaks may have been the vehicle, but they weren’t the cause.
Further, if publishing alone constitutes a crime, then at this point shouldn’t the NY Times, CNN, and practically every other news organization on the planet be in trouble? They’ve all republished bits and pieces of the stolen information.
But that horse has left the barn. The documents have already been dumped to the web. In response, Sen. Joe Lieberman has been pressuring hosting sites like Amazon who were acting as one of several worldwide servers hosting the Wikileaks website. Amazon has since relented and taken the content off of their servers. The company Tableau Software was providing analysis and visualzations of the Wikileaks data dump. They too have been persuaded to take down their content. None of these moves have been more than annoyances. Wikileaks data is spread across servers all over the international web at this point. There’s no useful way to scrub it all off.
Earlier today, the government pressured the US based DNS provider for Wikileaks to disable the wikileaks.org domain name. This made it difficult to find the website for several minutes until the direct IP addresses of the servers were posted widely. Within 6 hours, the site emerged with the new Swiss domain name wikileaks.ch.
The net, by its very nature, is highly connected, highly redundant, and not under any one country or company’s control. Ask any starlet who’s tried to get her nude pictures down off the web. You can try and whack every site they pop up on, but ultimately you just draw more and more attention to the pictures and insure they will haunt you forever. This is no different. The State Department cables have been cached, copied, and spidered countless times by servers and users all over the world. You can even go here to download your own copy of the Wikileaks website so you too can put it online, or just have a look about.
As Sally told Harry all those years ago, “You can’t take it back… Because it’s already out there.”
Anyone who’s played the arcade game Whac-a-Mole can tell you, playing makes a lot of noise and tends to draw a crowd of onlookers anxious to see you make a fool of yourself. At this point, all the government can do is stop drawing attention by whacking the little critters. It just encourages them. Eventually, it will blow over.
Oh, and they might want to upgrade their security procedures to prevent any Lady Gaga CDs from getting into secure areas.