Last week, on Sunday, the world awoke to the controversy set off by Wikileaks’ release of some of the 250,000 or so U.S wires that it allegedly has in its possession. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is the main focus in this controversy. The public has responded publicly and online; SCSU students are weighing out the right to freedom of speech versus national security.
Julian Wilson, the secretary of the Media Studies club at Southern, said he believes the public has the right to know about the information Wikileaks has exposed, but only as far as it does not put national security at risk, especially when the release has been done on such an “incendiary manner,” he said.
“Freedom of information should extend to things that are not of tactical military importance,” Wilson said. “Unless it harms our relationships with other countries, we should be able to know it.”
Wilson said that legal repercussions for Assange should depend on whichever country he is in at the moment.
“It’s hard to determine whose laws would you have to go by and if there is even ground to prosecute him,” Wilson said.
According to the White House’s press briefings online, the documents exposed by Wikileaks were classified U.S State Department cables. Assange is, allegedly, somewhere in the U.K.
A.J Birmingham, a political science major at Southern, said there are times when information is better off kept secret until an appropriate time, but that at some point all information should be known by the public.
“I think we have the right to know up until the point where national security comes into play,” he said. “It
threatens the nation as a whole when things get leaked.”
According to Birmingham, the public has elected politicians they trust, whom will give the public the information they need and keep secret the information that is important to keep them safe.
“I am not sure whether Julian Assange should be legally accountable,” he said.
What concerns him, Birmingham said, is whether he got the information legally, because, due to freedom of speech in the U.S, Assange has the right to make the information public. But if he broke any laws in the process, he should be prosecuted, said Birmingham.
The White House has officially condemned Assange’s actions but has not made clear whether it will peruse legal action against him, according to the press briefings on their website.
Prof. Jonathan O’Hara, of the political science department at Southern, said it is necessary to analyze the nature of the leak and who can potentially be harmed by it in order to determine whether, in this particular case, national security outweighs freedom of speech, or vise versa.
“Of course idealistically is a good thing for the public to be more informed about what is happening in government and what government may not be telling society,” he said. “At the same time there is always the possibility that the leak can do harm, not to society in general, but to various groups and individuals within society, [like the military].”
According to O’Hara, there are occasion in which the public does not need to know what happens within government, but once that has been said it is a “slippery slope” because there could be limitations on possibly any information.
O’Hara said the strongest argument against trying to prosecute and prevent these kinds of leaks is that they “fall on deaf ears” because the public is very unaware of what happens in government and the world.