Sorry, I need to go for another leak

The furore surrounding the latest Wikileaks revelations could have some interesting ramifications. Yesterday, rumours circulated that Bank of America may be next for the “Psst! Guess what I found out” treatment: reports indicate that its stock fell over 3 percent on that speculation. That was based on Julian Assange (how long before we have a verb ‘assange’?) saying that he plans to release internal documents from a major US bank early in 2011. International pressure has been on the world’s banking system for many years to be more transparent, but banks and others prefer to have more say over how information is disclosed.

Now, disgruntled employees have always had the option of exposing what they think will embarrass their employer, if they feel that the information would come as a major surprise and be damaging to the organization, or to let the public know a story other than that put out as public relations. The government, often despised for a range of valid and not valid reasons, has just had its day in the sun. So, why not the private sector next? The general public has a love-hate relationship with organizations and often want to see them undressed, fearing that they have just become too powerful or too big or too impersonal or too something else. So, a part of the body public may well see this as overdue comeuppance, especially after many unpleasant experiences and stories behind the financial practices that are a big part of the recent economic and financial crises.

But the desire for corporate or organizational pull-back may also have a tendency to backfire in other ways. Now that anyone can offer information and spread it quickly and widely, how long before some of the means for doing that get restricted? What may be interesting is whether the reaction will be to start limiting some of the advances that have been part of the work place over the past several decades. These include wide scale access to computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices that make storing and broadcasting information much easier than it ever used to be. You could have a push in organisations to limit computing devices to only certain processing operations and let data storage and management only go to a select and tightly screened few. Unthinkable? Let’s see.

Now, whether the disgruntled are a mere few rogues or part of a bigger set of the dissatisfied may well determine where the leaks process goes. In a time when jobs are hard to get many would not risk exposure and perhaps dismissal for putting their employers in a bad light. But, those who feel that they will be shed or have been shed may have information that they will or have already shared.

Also, people’s tolerance for more leaks may well depend on the extent to which they feel that the line that protects information about individuals is not crossed. People would shudder, I think, if the leaks were of personal medical, legal, or financial details. n

Many organizations have been quite cavalier about internal security in the electronic age, and it is often only apparent when we read or hear of the glaring gaffes that occur: lost or mislaid computers; memory drives lost or misplaced; files lost or misplaced. We do not have to go to the domain of people hacking into computer systems to go ferreting for data. Could the leakiness lead to a pull back and a return to the age of paper? Many would be glad, feeling that all of the electronics were never for them.

But, the phase of leaks really has no end. Nothing can stop the leaking spreading to any government in any country, and in the same way that US diplomats’ musings have seen daylight, so might those of their British, European, Israeli, Russian, Chinese…any counterparts. What is to stop someone deciding that enough pillaging of public coffers has occurred and it’s time to expose that in some republic alleged to be corrupt. Will the public good stand as a good enough reason to let such practices go on?

Of course, while Wikileaks may be doing its part for no particular financial gain, many have paid and will pay for disclosure. Where is the line to be drawn concerning disclosure of information? In places where freedom of information, freedom of expression, and a push for transparency are already well enshrined the discussion could become very interesting.

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About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
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