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Wikileaks and Mill’s Harm Principle

December 8, 2010

The online website was launched in 2006, with the goal of bringing “important news and information to the public”. However, “unlike other (media) outlets,…(wikileaks is) fearless in (the) efforts to get the unvarnished truth out to the public”. Indeed, the manner of honest reporting that some may even call reckless has garnered wikileaks a substantial amount of public attention. For instance, wikileaks published a series of classified war logs for both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as the video of “collateral casualties”, where there was an unprovoked killing of dozens of people in New Baghdad, Iraq, amongst them two Reuters news staff.

The video and documents were submitted by anonymous sources, where people are able to send wikileak documents in their drop-box which is encrypted to ensure the anonymity of the contributor. However, these documents are all deemed highly sensitive and are subsequently classified by the state. In spreading them, wikileaks would be deemed somewhat threatening by the government as it could potentially destabilize the country. What would Mill think?

According to Mill,

“That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Another way to put this, courtesy of Doc. LeVaque-Manty, would be to say that an individual is entitled to liberty so long as he does not restrict the liberty of others, liberty to pursue their life goals and live their lives.

The United States government prohibited the release of these tapes since they deemed the release of such information to be harmful to the public. With respect to the war logs, it may be better for the many soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan if they were kept secret, as the logs may contain sensitive information regarding strategic positioning and the like that could endanger many of the soldiers. A recent example of released war information which led to the endangerment of soldiers would be the paparazzi following Prince Harry into a war zone and exposing where he was serving the military, causing his unit to attract more than wanted attention and publicity.

Whereas this may be the truth with the war logs, I certainly do not believe that the video footage of the slaughter of 12 innocent people would harm the population in any way. The only people who could have repercussions from that would be those on the helicopter who initiated the attack, where they would have deserved the just punishment given consideration of all the information on what actually happened. In keeping the tapes back, the government is merely shielding a branch of its operations from blame, rather than protecting the people.

The Wikileaks website can be found here: (Hello, an ip address?)

  1. Shauna Sitarek permalink
    December 8, 2010 11:36 AM

    I commented earlier on a blog similar to this one, and I agreed with the author of that blog in saying that the word deserved to know everything that was going on, and that WikiLeks was something everyone had the right to view and that information of any kind should be revealed on in.

    However, in your essay you reveal a side of the argument that I did not think about, the fact that some videos or information could result in giving away military positions which could bring harm to the soldiers. In this case, I agree that Mill would probably say this information should not appear on WikiLeaks, since it would cause harm to a person or multiple people. Therefore in order to keep people safe, the site needs to be controlled somehow so that not everything can be published.

    So with that being said, I feel like this puts this on going argument (a particularly popular topic on this blog) of whether WikiLeaks should continue as it has in the past, back at square one because in order to keep people safe, the site will now need to be monitored, (and I’m sure you know who will be put in charge to do that, someone from the government) to make certain that the information that appears there will not bring harm to anyone. With the government in control of WikiLeaks, we can be sure that any information that might hurt their causes will be deleted, and we,the American citizens, will go back to having to listen to the crap the government spits out at us and we will have to continue searching for the actual truth.

    • tungyat permalink
      December 8, 2010 1:59 PM

      Darn, didn’t know that there was already a blog on this.

  2. lrib12 permalink
    December 8, 2010 11:47 PM

    We talked about this in discussion today. Wikileaks, among our group discussion, had many different opinions. I for one feel that something such as Wikileaks is quite influential and perhaps can start a new ideology–one that is a belief that we should have much more insight on our government than we do. This, as we were discussing, can perhaps one day lead to a global revolution as countries can be informed about other people’s government.

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