It’s in these days and weeks, where everyone talked about wikileaks and it’s founder Julian Assange, that I read much about national security and secrets, but I realize, that what people mean with these terms and what they really stand for are somewhat completely different things and that’s what makes the discussion full of misunderstandings.
E.g. today I read the following note:
“he [Mr. Assange] doesn’t accept any secrets of governments, whereas he himself makes heavy use of them with his project Wikileaks”.
I want to analyze, the sentence above and show, why this is a wrong conclusion.
First off I want to explain the simple and powerful concept of Wikileaks. Wikileaks is all about transparency, to fight corruption and abuse. Nothing more nothing less.
It’s about bringing transparency to where concentration of power runs together and where wrong decisions can really be threats for society and humanity, meaning in governments and big societies.
As soon as you understand that, you understand that Wikileaks is not a threat for democracy, but the fundamental of it. No government or company has the right to preclude information from the public.
Does this mean, that there don’t have to be secrets anymore? Absolutely not!
But lets analyze the term secret a bit more:
A secret is something, that only some people are authorized to see. Not everyone. It’s about authorization in a value system. Who can see the secret? That’s already more difficult to define: In most cases there is a fine grained hierarchy of “trust”, that determines who is authorized to access secret information and this shows already, that secrets are somewhat “unnatural” to nature and difficult to handle. After all it’s human being accessing secrets.
What kind of information might be secret?
- well obviously the information must have some value. It is not your shopping list. What’s the highest value an information can have? When information becomes so filtered, that it becomes knowledge. Does knowledge have to be secret? No, knowledge is a public porperty of humanity. So what has to be secret? Well it turns out, that there are not many informations, that have to be kept secret. In nature secrets don’t exist! And there is a good reason for it. The natural value system regulates itsself by weightings. So authorization is replaced by heuristics. That’s how humans act between each other. You won’t tell all your private things to a perfect stranger, but perhaps to your mother. That’s because, your mother has a higher rating of trust in your brains neural circuit.
I have always wondered, how potentially insecure networks, like e.g. credit card networks are after all quite safe. Well it turns out, that they make heavy use of these heuristics. E.g. they can detect over mathematical algorithms, if an access pattern is somewhat “unnatural” to your normal behaviour and block your card. As a simple case immagine your credit card is stolen and someone is continuously accessing your bank account from abroad. This is an unnatural context for your normal behaviour and might therefore be detected by the system as a fraud.
After this excurse, I want to go back to the initial question:
Do states have to have secrets?
The answer is yes, until we don’t live in a perfect world, states sometimes must have secrets (especially, when it comes to national security), but most of the time the answer is NO! Why? Cause states are only legitimated by the civilization itsself. (It’s the people who finance governments, it’s their money!). So everything they do must be transparent to the people. Governments don’t have to ask every individual its consent, but it must be transparent, what they intend to do and how they gonna spend the money. I am really astonished these days, to see how many politicians and journalists seem to not have understood this.
Does Wikileaks have secrets? No! Cause Wikileaks is not about authorizing anybody to have the information, the information is completely public. It’s about anonymizing the source of the information so that no one not even Wikileaks itsself can find out where this information came from and trying to make sure the authenticity of it, This is fundamental in democracy (see the constitutional anonymity principle in elections).
So to keep the conclusion of this article short:
When people talk about secrets, they should differenciate between authorization and anonymizing!