Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

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.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

Orkut and Why Facebook Beats Out Local Social Networks

Orkut, Google’s social network platform once beloved in Brazil, will soon shutter with Facebook taking its place. Mark Zuckerberg's social network currently not only operates but also dominates in every time zone, making it at this point in time, an empire upon which the sun literally never sets. GO

tuesday >

#FlashHacks: Crowdscraping Corporate Data to Understand "The Man"

You probably work for “The Man.” If not you, then someone close to you does, and even if you have no friends or family, your government is almost certainly doing business with him. Wouldn't it be nice to know a bit more about the so-called “Man”? Thanks to the massive open data project OpenCorporates, you now can, and they are intensifying their data opening efforts with #FlashHacks, a crowdscraping campaign launched today. The campaign goal is to release 10 million data points on the companies you work for, work with, buy from, sell to, and deal with in tangible and intangible ways every day, and all in just 10 days.

GO

New York City Payphone WiFi Project Presents Opportunities and Challenges

While some technologists who have experience in the space share the concerns of some New York City Council members and current payphone franchisees that the city's decision to award the project to only one franchisee or one joint venture could hurt the project, the city and one of the companies preparing a response to the Request for Proposals see the approach as the best way to ensure a standard experience, competition and innovation. From both perspectives, the project illustrates how the vision for more accessible WiFi in New York is tied to the potential for innovation within the established procurement system. GO

That's So Meta: To Test Digital Democracy, Crowdsourcing Comments on Digital Democracy

For more than a month now, Wikimedia Meta-Wiki, the global Wikimedia community site, has hosted a little experiment in digital democracy. Carl Miller, co-founder of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at the think tank Demos-UK, and Wikimedia UK's Stevie Benton wanted to see whether the mechanisms that govern Wikipedia could be applied to political policy. The opportunity to do so arose when the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow announced the Commission on Digital Democracy, an investigation into how digital technology can be used to improve democratic processes, and solicited comments from the public.

GO

monday >

Weekly Readings: The "Snooper's Charter"

The UK wants to increase surveillance; Russia demands Google, Facebook and Twitter open local offices and hand over user data; Tunisians debate on social media whether to boycott the next election; and much more. GO

More