In 1971, the New York Times published a collection of top-secret government documents known as the Pentagon papers. Leaked by U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers revealed a previously untold history of the Vietnam War, as seen from inside the Department of Defense. While these documents had been in Ellsberg’s possession since 1969, the public was unaware of them until they were acquired and published by a major national newspaper.
Last year, 75,000 classified documents detailing the events of the War in Afghanistan were published by the website WikiLeaks. Comparable in scope to the Pentagon Papers, this leak marked a new era in whistleblowing. At each stage of the process, from obtaining the documents to distributing and publicizing them, computers and the internet were intimately involved. Technology enabled and expedited the wide-scale dissemination of state secrets, providing valuable public insight into an ongoing conflict but posing a potential threat to the security of U.S. military forces.
Computers and the internet have made it easier than ever to share information on a massive scale. In some cases, however, this information has been privileged and confidential. The rise of online whistleblowing, championed by WikiLeaks, has proven to be an effective and widely recognized effort. As technology moves all information toward this model of unfettered accessibility, the consequences for secret information could be dramatic. We hope to investigate how the concept of whistleblowing and information leakage has translated to the digitally connected society that now surrounds us.