I went yesterday to a screening of We Steal Secrets, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney’s brilliant new documentary about Wikileaks. The movie is beautiful and profound, an incredible story that’s about many things all at once, including the incredible Shakespearean narrative that is the life of Julian Assange, a free-information radical who has become an uncompromising guarder of secrets.
I’ll do a full review in a few months, when We Steal Secrets comes out, but I bring it up now because the whole issue of secrets and how we keep them is increasingly in the news, to the point where I think we’re headed for a major confrontation between the government and the public over the issue, one bigger in scale than even the Wikileaks episode.
We’ve seen the battle lines forming for years now. It’s increasingly clear that governments, major corporations, banks, universities and other such bodies view the defense of their secrets as a desperate matter of institutional survival, so much so that the state has gone to extraordinary lengths to punish and/or threaten to punish anyone who so much as tiptoes across the informational line.
This is true not only in the case of Wikileaks – and especially the real subject of Gibney’s film, Private Bradley Manning, who in an incredible act of institutional vengeance is being charged with aiding the enemy (among other crimes) and could, theoretically, receive a death sentence.
There’s also the horrific case of Aaron Swartz, a genius who helped create the technology behind Reddit at the age of 14, who earlier this year hanged himself after the government threatened him with 35 years in jail for downloading a bunch of academic documents from an MIT server. Then there’s the case of Sergey Aleynikov, the Russian computer programmer who allegedly stole the High-Frequency Trading program belonging to Goldman, Sachs (Aleynikov worked at Goldman), a program which prosecutors in open court admitted could, “in the wrong hands,” be used to “manipulate markets.” Continue reading