Dan Gilmor (isn’t he in Pink Floyd? Oh, no, that’s Dave Gilmour) had an article up earlier this week regarding the WikiLeaks data dump that was quite good. I have nothing to say about their historical (or lack thereof) significance but he does make a valid point when he says:
Whatever our keepers of intelligence secrets do know, and whatever abuses they’ve done to our civil liberties to learn them, they must feel less sure today about keeping it all contained. When that many people have access to information, however compartmentalized their bosses may think they’ve made the system, some of it will get out, which leads to something else we should worry about.
The WikiLeaks war diary will absolutely spur our powerful institutions to look for increasingly draconian ways to clamp down on how we share information. What WikiLeaks represents is what governments and corporations fear: a threat to their cultures of secrecy and dominance in their domains.
And here’s the point. It’s going to get harder and harder to keep stuff classified in the future. The only thing we get by over-classifying information is a dilution of the idea of the need to keep some information secret. That, in turn, leads to people handling such information sloppily or intentionally leaking it. You can raise the penalties all you want for unauthorized disclosure but with so many people having access to such vast quantities of classified information you’re really engaging in a futile exercise.
So, I suspect we will see new laws and perhaps new procedures which further hamper the ability of people in the field to work efficiently (see: the DoD ban on flash drives which had to be relaxed) but it won’t fundimentally change things. Better classification AND declassification procedures would be a big help.