I’m postponing my followup post to the last post until Monday, because I just had to say something about the Library of Congress blocking access to Wikileaks. I obviously haven’t been paying enough attention to shenanigans at the Library of Congress lately, mainly because its blog is usually really boring.
I’m not sure I agree that all the Wikileaks are that bad. Though some of the leaked documents could lead to damage, some of that information should already have been leaked to make Americans feel safer. I feel better knowing that China knows what a dangerous basket case North Korea is, or that Iran’s neighbors are sane enough to know how insane it is. But anyway.
Here’s the official response from LC:
The Library decided to block Wikileaks because applicable law obligates federal agencies to protect classified information. Unauthorized disclosures of classified documents do not alter the documents’ classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.
Though it seems the Library of Congress went to extremes in actually blocking access, it does seem in line with the email directive the White House sent out to federal agencies:
Federal agencies collectively, and each federal employee and contractor individually, are obligated to protect classified information pursuant to all applicable laws, as well as to protect the integrity of government information technology systems.
The White House never requested blocked access, but I guess the administrators at the Library of Congress don’t trust their staff. Though I’m not sure that I would trust a bunch of bored librarians with computers to voluntarily refrain from searching Wikileaks.
Some librarians have been up in arms that the Library of Congress would restrict access to any information, because, you know, libraries are about access to information! It’s censorship! I don’t think that’s relevant here because the White House directive isn’t about restricting access to information in the way that, say, “banning” Heather Marries a Dead Gay Penguin is “censorship,” or even the way that real censorship is censorship.
I hate to break it to earnest librarians looking for censorship in this issue, but classified documents are already censored. That’s just in the nature of the beast. Wikileaks has uncensored them. The government would love to censor these documents again, but obviously can’t.
The language from both the White House and the Library of Congress is clear on the motivation: to “protect classified information.” Now that has to be about the stupidest reason anyone could possibly give for even asking people not to read, and especially for blocking federal employee access to, websites.
It’s too late to protect that classified information. The time to think about that protection was in 1995. Here’s an excerpt from a Time Magazine story on government secrecy:
In 1995, Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12958, which gave just 20 officials, including the President, the power to classify documents as top secret, meaning their disclosure would likely “cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” of the U.S. But sneakily, the order also allowed those 20 selected officials to delegate their authority to 1,336 others. Nor was that all: according to a 1997 bipartisan congressional report of a committee chaired by the scourge of government secrecy, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, such “derivative” classification authority was eventually handed to some 2 million government officials and a million industry contractors.
So three million people, including a million non-federal employees, had top secret clearance to government documents just two years after the Executive Order. Add to that the ability to download the information onto portable drives (which I read somewhere has now been restricted), and that sounds like some pretty good information protection!
Given that the government couldn’t protect the information when they controlled it, the idea of protecting it once it’s out on the Internet makes the White House look ridiculous, and the idea that restricting access for LC librarians to Wikileaks protects classified information just makes LC look dumb, because those poor LC librarians could never figure out how to find that Wikileaks information.
The restricted Internet access is dumb considering that probably no people would be more easily able to find and read the Wikileaks documents than librarians, restricted access or no. The restricted access implies that the librarians can’t be trusted to comply with a request from the White House and are also too incompetent to bypass the restrictions. Way to go, LC!