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I'm Writing a Book: WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, January 10 2011

I'm excited to announce that in mid-February OR Books, a small independent press based in New York City, will be publishing my seventh sixth book, WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency. You can pre-order copies or e-books here.

The book is not meant to be a treatise on WikiLeaks, nor an exhaustive discussion of the future of secrecy or privacy. But it is very much inspired by WikiLeaks and the fierce debates it has set off. The book aims to be a report from the trenches where a wide array of small-d democracy and transparency activists are hard at work in the United States and other countries using new tools and methods to open up previously closed and powerful institutions and make them more accountable, and to situate WikiLeaks in that larger movement. In my view, WikiLeaks is just one piece of a much larger continuum of changes in how the people and the powerful relate to each other—changes that are fundamentally healthy for the growth and strength of an open society.

What is new is our ability to individually and together connect with greater ease than at any time in human history. As a result, information is flowing more freely into the public arena, powered by seemingly unstoppable networks of people all over the world cooperating to share vital data and prevent its suppression. Old institutions and incumbent powers are inexorably coming to terms with this new reality. The “Age of Transparency” is here: not because one transnational online network dedicated to open information and whistleblowing named WikiLeaks exists, but because the knowledge of how to build and maintain such networks is now widespread. Secrecy and the hoarding of information are ending; openness and the sharing of information are coming.

I also decided to write this book because we seem to have reached a hinge moment in that process. America’s leaders, some of them advocates for greater transparency in government at home and abroad, seem shocked that an outside force is doing to them what they have long called on democracy activists in other countries to do to their governments. Other political figures aren’t even trying to balance open government with their knee-jerk attacks on WikiLeaks and calls for Assange’s imprisonment or assassination. American technology companies seem mostly cowed by the furious blasts emanating from Washington and uncertain of their own commitment to defend free speech online (Twitter being the biggest exception at the moment, to its credit). While some tech visionaries are speaking out, others have been disturbingly quiet about the willingness of large chunks of their industry to cave in so quickly to political pressure. And American democracy activists seems divided between those who want to fight with extra-legal methods to defend the wide-open web, those who fear engendering an anti-WikiLeaks backlash (or distrust Assange personally and fear being tied to his mast), and those like me who are resolutely anti-anti-WikiLeaks, and worry that the "cure" to WikiLeaks' independence will be worse than the disease.

While it is impossible to predict which way things will go, I'm hoping that the book can serve as a guide to help better understand how we got here, and thus also a resource for charting a sensible way forward.