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I writing you this open letter on a matter that is not only of great importance to the international community, but one that is personally important to me as a free citizen of the United States and as an active member of the growing internet community. That matter being the growing debate and reaction to the Wikileaks cable releases and what it represents on the world stage.
I am a 25 year old owner of a computer consulting and repair shop in Albany, GA, and the dawn of the digital age has not only affected the way I do business and communicate with friends and clients, but fundamentally shaped the way I view and interact with the world around me. You see, I grew up in an incredibly sheltered environment.
My mother has always suffered from mental illness, and in her paranoia kept me locked away in the house I grew up in. My only way out of this prison was through the computers my mother purchased to keep me placated in my room (She had luckily not succumbed to the fears concerning the dangers of the internet that were growing at the time). Without the important guidance and wisdom of an able parent, I was robbed of the advantages many take for granted. The internet and early home computing was my window to a world outside my own. I taught myself how to read on video games and closed captions, and I attribute most of my knowledge and love of history, science and literature as well as my critical thinking skills and research abilities to my exposure to the digital world. I eventually had to run away from home to complete my high school education, and have since founded my own business using the skills I learned as much in the cyber world as the real one. Many who have grown up in the same environment are developmentally challenged, and I am lucky that I had this wonderful tool to influence my mind and mold me into who I am today.
I am one of many who feel that the free internet worldscape is a unique place with an unlimited repository of information that can have no borders. It is an incredibly powerful tool that allows the free distribution of ideas to anyone with access. That power has set free the minds of people not only in oppressive countries where access is limited, but also here in the United States and places normally considered free, but are economically or social limited in what they could access before. It used to be that only a few below the poverty line or in harsh situations could have access to the volumes of information and debate found hidden behind the walls of the college elite. Now history and philosophy on the highest levels can be openly debated on forums and blogs, and people can network their gathered information and disseminate it globally at blinding speeds without a price of entry that bars only the few rich enough to attain it.
This has fundamentally changed the world, and yet it seems that mostly only my generation has fully grasped the reigns of this new power. Our government and governments around the globe, and the policy makers and policy enforcers are struggling, and failing to adapt to this change. My generation and many of the American people at large have grown dissatisfied with our level of involvement in how the world is run. There is a shared frustration that our elected representatives are both ineffective and corrupt, owing allegiance to corporate money backers and their self-serving parties over effective governing of the country, and this is true of many countries around the world as well. With this new level of education and communication, an environment has been created where many of us see that we have a better grasp on many issues than the lawmakers themselves do.
Not only that, the game appears to be rigged, and any other sensible third or fourth option to any debate on any topic beyond the straight left and right wing opposing sides is completely shut out. This is felt even more so in the 20th century media outlets here in the US, where informing the public on a given topic has been usurped with the ratings grabbing spectacle of a red versus blue version of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots where nobody wins but the media outlets and the parties. Sound bites are often one-sided at best, and completely falsified for their target demographic at worst, leaving those behind in the digital age to have a both skewed and deliberately controlled view of the world around them.
Thus it is in this environment where Wikileaks is seen as a beacon of hope. It is a chance for those of us who feel suffocated by the misrepresentation of our elected leaders to not only expose what is really going on behind closed doors, but flex some real power on the world stage. It is also a chance to create a real dialog on world events beyond the skewed view of old school media, to really inform the public on what’s going on in the world. Or, to be frank, do what real journalists should be doing.
In truth the content within the leaks, for the most part, doesn’t show an embarrassing underbelly that our government was hiding, but the truth of business as usual as a superpower. In many ways, it’s done a better job of telling the public how important our actions are aboard than you or the previous administration has done. Honestly, you would probably be doing better in popularity if you had just released most of these candidly through your press secretary, more overtly honoring your pledge for a more open government.
The support of Wikileaks on the web means more to many than just its exposure of government in action. Actions such as “Operation Payback” where activist hackers have frozen the systems of the Swiss bank that has closed Wikileaks accounts are not the actions of people who want to hurt the economy, cause anarchy, or fight a global war against capitalist western power. It is a chance to prove that the digital generation will not be denied. Our voice is not adequately being heard by our representative governments or in traditional media, and it seems that the collection of moves against Wikileaks is a move against our free speech and the power of our collective voice. This is a way to show the world that for every move made against that voice, a move can be made against the powers trying to silence it.
I empathize with them, and I don’t disagree with their tactics. Normally the fight would be unfair, and while it’s great that we talk about enjoying the freedoms of speech in the free world, in practicality it can and does get trampled upon by those who are richer and more powerful than most. ACTA is another example of this. The protection of copyrighted material isn’t so much the issue than that it was written in so much secrecy and is called upon to be enforced in ways that makes that unfair balance of power further tipped in the favor of those with far more resources than the common person. When the fight appears to be so unfair, the playing field has to be leveled, and sometimes that has to happen by breaking the rules to a rigged game.
I believe that my government, however, is not the enemy. If our policy makers were more competent, and less corrupt, then we could solve many of the problems that plague our country and the world. That can only happen if we stem the tide of voter apathy and properly inform the public, a job that our media is not doing since much of it is in bed with the political machine that is causing most of our problems. Journalism outside of the established media outlets is our only hope of really informing the public, and eventually electing leaders who can actually run this country.
Statements by former Governor Palin and Senator Lieberman, as well as the announcement that the Department of Justice probe into Wikileaks send the wrong message. It gives off the appearance to many of us that the establishment is not going to protect the free press when it is inconvenient politically. People are afraid that these attacks against Wikileaks support are a part of a coordinated strike by the US government and its allies against a voice it doesn’t like. That is not an action that principals of our country were founded upon supports.
In reality, Wikileaks collected the leaks from a source like any other journalist venture with the aid of many established journalistic institutions, which means that it should be protected under free press laws. The truth is that the cables and other leaks were let out due to the ineffectual nature of how secrets are kept and categorized as well as who has access to them. A witch hunt solves nothing. This is an administrative problem if there ever was one, and the only real way to protect information that has to stay classified for national security purposes is to reevaluate and reform the system in which it’s kept.
There is an opportunity here to break away from that image. You, as President of the United States, are in a unique position to influence how the world perceives the American government and the climate in Washington. If you take charge of this issue by further reforming the mechanism of which classified information is disseminated, you will do more to protect American assets and national security than trying to push the blame on Wikileaks. I understand that you have already made reforms with Executive Order 13526 in regards to simplifying secret materials classifications as well as streamlining the process of who can classify these materials, but many of the classified cables appear to only obfuscate information that is not essential to national security, which as I understand it is actually illegal.
You must make it clear that your administration is not aiming to shut down freedom of speech when it is inconvenient. Mr. President, I urge you to take action on this in a way that will bring respect back to our country’s government. If you let the anti-Wikileaks sound bites be the defining voice from our government, I fear that will create a dangerous precedent for leaders dealing with this new voice we have on the web.
Yours very truly,
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Same thing goes for software. Are you really going to complain that you bought a $10k piece of software but only paid $100 for it because your license key says parts of the software are disabled? No.