Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Journalists Are The New Terrorists

The detention of David Miranda is only the latest example of a new trend, where journalism is now terrorism, and journalists are pursued as such.

Digital technology and near-real-time global communication has reinforced the maxim Information Wants To Be Free.  For the cost of an Internet connection or cafe visit or $10 flash drive, one may leak an entire Library of Congress worth of digital material onto filesharing networks.  Technology makes sharing so easy that keeping secrets becomes increasingly difficult -- for individuals, companies and governments alike.

These mass-leaks are a brand new type of attack on the nation-state.  Robbs' Brave New War describes asymmetric attacks such as these.  Never before has a nation-state faced the possibility of losing so many secrets to so many adversaries in a single incident.  The famous Pentagon Papers leak is nothing compared to the scale of leaks that current digital technology enables.

What, then, are a nation-state's responses likely to be?

Realpolitik says that "terrorism" opens legal doors that are otherwise closed to law enforcement, making its invocation economically rational and, therefore, likely.  Additional law enforcement tools including but not limited to extended detentions and searches are available, once "terrorism" has been invoked.

Further, given that exposure of state secrets to the world may be seen by rational folks as an attack, a government response that engages the anti-terrorism apparatus is not unexpected.

Traditionally, the leaker is considered the criminal, but the journalist receiving the leaked materials is in the clear, as if passed through a Chinese wall.  Some nations even have shield laws. That tradition is breaking down, as journalists are now as pursued as the leakers, with associated anti-terrorism forces.

Leaks are always an incredibly difficult ethical boundary.  Put simply, leaking has a very real chance of harming Good Guys, and enabling Bad Guys.

Paradoxically, leaks also appear to be necessary to prevent Top Secret America from driving too much policy outside the view of the voting public.

With the logic that leaks are attacks on the state, and therefore terrorism, any journalists associated with leaks are now terrorists.  And who is to say that, next year, Chinese cyberwarfare or US cyberwarfare units will not consider journalists enemy combatants?

If publishing information is terrorism, is it not also warfare?

Update: The UK is defending the seizure by claiming Miranda was “in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism.”

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