IQ2: Is Wikileaks a Force for Good?

US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a big fan of the concept of open governance, famously opined that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Yet even the world’s liberal democracies have claimed that sometimes they require a place in the shade, condemning WikiLeaks for publishing their confidential information.
Are governments justified in their condemnation of WikiLeaks and merely being responsible in protecting their secrets? Could the world really survive an unbridled commitment to transparency?

Tackling this thorny topical issue at an IQ2 Debate in Sydney were two teams featuring, on one side, a former foreign minister in Gareth Evans … and, on the other, a Wikileaks insider in the form of Icelandic investigative journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson.

While the negative team gained ground on the night, according to the pre-debate polling of the audience, the affirmative team triumphed in the end with 58 percent of the vote to 33 percent against, and 9 percent undecided.

Dr Suelette Dreyfus is a Research Fellow in Information Systems at the University of Melbourne. She wrote the 1997 book “Underground” in collaboration with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, then a young convicted computer hacker. It was the first mainstream book about computer hacking in Australia, having since been translated into seven other languages and described as a cult classic. The electronic release of the book in 2001 saw more than 400,000 downloads. Dreyfus trained as a newspaper journalist before moving into investigative journalism and academic research. Her articles have appeared in a range of publications including The UK Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend Magazine and The Australian as well as many online publications.

Kristinn Hrafnsson is the current spokesman for WikiLeaks following legal battles engulfing the organisation’s founder, Julian Assange. Hrafnsson is an Icelandic investigative journalist who exposed high-level criminal activity and corruption. His work on the collapse of Iceland’s Kaupthing Bank caused his TV program to be taken off air and the team sacked. He joined the news team of Iceland’s national broadcaster and fought against the legal suppression of further expos about the bank drawn from documents published by WikiLeaks. Hrafnsson was subsequently made redundant from the broadcaster in July last year and began to work independently. He collaborated with the WikiLeaks organisation and called the December 2010 attacks on WikiLeaks a “privatisation of censorship”.

Stuart Rees is Emeritus Professor at Sydney university and Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation which earlier this year awarded the Foundation’s medal for human rights to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Rees began as a probation officer/social worker in the court system in London and worked in mental health and community development programs in British Colombia, India and Sri Lanka and in the War on Poverty projects at the University of Southern Colorado. He was Professor of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Sydney until retirement in 2000. Rees co-founded Sydney University’s Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies and was Director from 1988 to 2006. In 1997 he co-founded the Sydney Peace Foundation. In 2005 he was awarded the Order of Australia for service to international relations.

Gareth Evans is a former Foreign Minister for Australia known internationally for his work on the Cambodian peace plan and concluding the UN Chemical Weapons Convention. He was President of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group and is currently Chancellor of the Australian National University and Professorial Fellow at The University of Melbourne. Evans was awarded the 2010 Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute Four Freedoms Award for “Freedom from Fear”, which cited his work in conflict prevention and resolution.

Dr Michael Fullilove is the Director of the Global Issues Program at the Lowy Institute and a Non-resident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. A lawyer and historian by training, Fullilove wrote his doctorate at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He served as an adviser to Prime Minister Paul Keating and produced the initial feasibility study for the Lowy Institute. Dr Fullilive has published more than 150 articles on international politics in publications such as The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The National Interest and Foreign Affairs as well as all the Australian broadsheets. He is author of the book “Men and Women of Australia! Our Greatest Modern Speeches”.

Tom Switzer is a research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney where he teaches undergraduate courses in American politics and Australian history. He is also editor of The Spectator Australia, published in London. Switzer is a former Senior Adviser in the federal Opposition Leader’s office (2008), Opinion Editor for The Australian (2001-08), Editorial Writer at The Australian Financial Review (1998-2001) and Assistant Editor at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC (1995-98). He is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal (Asia), The American Review, ABC’s “The Drum” and Quadrant magazine.

Dr Simon Longstaff has a PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge. Prior to becoming the inaugural Executive Director of St James Ethics Centre in 1991, Dr Longstaff worked in the Northern Territory in the Safety Department of BHP subsidiary, GEMCO, lectured at Cambridge University and consulted to the Cambridge Commonwealth and Overseas Trusts. His book “Hard Cases, Tough Choices” was published in 1997.


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