Peter Ludlow: WikiLeaks and Hacktivist Culture





[Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, is the editor of Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias.]

In recent months there has been considerable discussion about the WikiLeaks phenomenon, and understandably so, given the volume and sensitivity of the documents the website has released. What this discussion has revealed, however, is that the media and government agencies believe there is a single protagonist to be concerned with—something of a James Bond villain, if you will—when in fact the protagonist is something altogether different: an informal network of revolutionary individuals bound by a shared ethic and culture....

WikiLeaks is not the one-off creation of a solitary genius; it is the product of decades of collaborative work by people engaged in applying computer hacking to political causes, in particular, to the principle that information-hoarding is evil—and, as Stewart Brand said in 1984, "Information wants to be free." Today there is a broad spectrum of people engaged in this cause, so that were Assange to be eliminated today, WikiLeaks would doubtless continue, and even if WikiLeaks were somehow to be eliminated, new sites would emerge to replace it....

It has long been an ethical principle of hackers that ideas and information are not to be hoarded but are to be shared.In 1984, when Assange turned 13, Steven Levy described this attitude in his book Hackers. After interviewing a number of hackers, he distilled a "hacker ethic," which included, among others, the following two maxims: (1) all information should be free; (2) mistrust authority and promote decentralization....


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