Hard News by Russell Brown


Can we get an adult up in here?

On the face of it, Wikileaks' progressive publication of five million emails from the servers of the strategic consultancy Strafor seems likely to have considerable journalistic value. If there have been questionable interactions between senior government officials and a private consultancy -- as is the claim -- then we should know about them.

Wikileaks has managed to hold the announcement close, even though it worked with 25 media partners around the world, including the Sunday Star Times (I'm assured web pages saying that the partnership was with Nicky Hager and the New Zealand Herald got the wrong newspaper). Julian Assange hasn't denounced anyone. It looks fairly orderly.

It was unhelpful, but not a gamebreaker, that Anonymous announced itself as the source of the emails, via Twitter. Compelling public interest is at least a moral defence for an illegal act.

It would have been better had both Anonymous and Wikileaks not so enthusiastically bragged about the size of their penises email haul. Keep your targets guessing, guys. You might have got them to say something you could expose as a lie. It would have looked more like an actual leak.

But those things aren't the problem. The problem is that in the same series of attacks in December in which the emails were acquired, Anonymous also grabbed 30,000 credit card numbers from Strafor's subscriber database. And fucking published them.

That was a criminal act of precisely zero journalistic value. You think it's important that people know Strafor's subscriber list? Fine. Publish the names. But publishing the private financial information of those people, in a way so as to facilitate credit card fraud? Utterly moronic. That fact will be used to underwrite extraordinary prosecutorial action against those reponsible, and as a cudgel in the media. It will fatally undermine Wikileaks' claim of right.

I have felt moved more than once to remind the heralds of the new age of transparency that it's not an unalloyed benfit unless and until there are a few more grown-ups involved. I am so moved again.

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