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Library of Congress Blinds Hill's Researchers to Wikileaks

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, December 6 2010

If a big takeaway from l'affair Wikileaks is that there's tremendous power in the networked world's ability to ripple out information, Steven Aftergood has a story on the flip-side of that power. Decisions about who gets to see what online can be more impactful than they might first look just because the way we get information these days is so integrated. The Library of Congress, it was reported last week, quickly moved to block Wikileaks in-house. One ripple effect? That means that researchers inside the Congressional Research Office, the Hill's research wing, are finding that they're cut off from the site too, and thus unable to make Congress smarter about what it is that Wikileaks is up to. Aftergood reports:

“It’s a difficult situation,” said one CRS analyst. “The information was released illegally, and it’s not right for government agencies to be aiding and abetting this illegal dissemination.  But the information is out there.  Presumably, any Library of Congress researcher who wants to access the information that Wikileaks illegally released will simply use their home computers or cellphones to do so.  Will they be able to refer directly to the information in their writings for the Library?  Apparently not, unless a secondary source, like a newspaper, happens to have already cited it.”

So, for example, if one of CRS's professional researchers wanted to answer a member of Congress' research request for, say, what in the Wikileaks cable dump has Putin upset, she or he would have to rely upon published reports rather than the source materials. In short,

In fact, if CRS is “Congress’s brain,” then the new access restrictions could mean a partial lobotomy.

Break the network, and the network breaks. There's some irony in the fact that one of the the big "leaks" that Wikileaks was known for until Cablegate happens was when last February they published more than 6,000 CRS reports, documents that are largely meant only for the eyes of members of Congress and their staff.