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WikiLeaks and Network Politics

December 8, 2010

I feel we’re in the midst of one of those pivotal moments in history where from here onwards, nothing is the same again.  Not that now is dramatically different from before – there have been incremental slow and steady changes moving from day to day to get us here.  But now is the time when the changes that have been building are undeniably real.  Post-WikiLeaks, it’s not going to be the same.

This is about the politics of technology and connectivity.  In the WikiLeaks saga we have a non-state actor taking on a number of powerful states (the US being foremost) and using its understanding of the network combined with a shared network – the Internet – as it’s platform;

Which brings us back to the larger significance of this controversy. The political elites of western democracies have discovered that the internet can be a thorn not just in the side of authoritarian regimes, but in their sides too. It has been comical watching them and their agencies stomp about the net like maddened, half-blind giants trying to whack a mole. It has been deeply worrying to watch terrified internet companies – with the exception of Twitter, so far – bending to their will.

But politicians now face an agonising dilemma. The old, mole-whacking approach won’t work. WikiLeaks does not depend only on web technology. Thousands of copies of those secret cables – and probably of much else besides – are out there, distributed by peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent. Our rulers have a choice to make: either they learn to live in a WikiLeakable world, with all that implies in terms of their future behaviour; or they shut down the internet. Over to them.

In many ways, WikiLeaks’ understanding of the network means that, for this battle at least, they have already won the war. Months ago WikiLeaks distributed a file called ‘insurance.aes256’ on p2p networks, available for anyone to download. It’s an encrypted file that needs a password. But the p2p distribution means that, before they started releasing files, they had in effect pre-released whatever they wanted and there is nothing that can now be done to stop that. All they have to do is put out the password;

For several months now Wikileaks has hosted a file called insurance.aes256, which, as the name implies, is encrypted with a 256-bit AES key. That’s about as uncrackable as you can get in 2010, meaning the file is all but useless without its encryption key. … In fact, the Defense Department has been unable to crack the file since it was first made available in July… More important than whether or not Assange releases the encryption key, or even what’s in the insurance file itself, is the idea behind Wikileaks. It speaks to the inherent openness of the Internet that so many mirrors have popped up in the last few days following the site’s repeated difficulties in staying online. The sheer notion that you can put Wikileaks back in its little bottle is hilariously naive.

Not only that, but as the main site for WikiLeaks went down, so mirrors appeared, meaning that the more the attacks on WikiLeaks intensified, the more it was mirrored. It’s the dynamics of p2p written on a strategy stage.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010 5:34 pm

    Just getting my head around some ANT stuff now. It seems that the wikileaks saga is a good case of punctualisation, durability and mobility. Via its challenge of the US ‘diplomacy’ networks it is opening them up to examination. I think you’re also right, that the insurance file becomes a hot actor, with some interesting agency in its own right, and obviously a life of its own beyond the wikileaks crew. Wikileaks itself is in (if ANT allows me to say this) a punctualisation mode itself, with its systems, networks, actors exposed. Case in point Assange in jail with much media attention and all the splinter groups suddenly acting out. Much breaking down on both sides – a veritable ANT war going on.

  2. griffithinsider permalink
    April 19, 2011 3:02 am

    Am writing a thesis on Public Trust in WikiLeaks, the Media and the Government and need to know what your opinions are. The online survey is multiple choice and will take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Please follow the link: Would be great if you would encourage others to do the survey also.


  1. P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » WikiLeaks: Networked Action for a Networked Age
  2. WikiLeaks: Networked Action for a Networked Age « A Great Becoming…

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