“The crew members of the Apache came upon about a dozen men ambling down a street, a block or so from American troops, and reported that five or six of the men were armed with AK-47s; as the Apache maneuvered into position to fire at them, the crew saw one of the Reuters journalists, who were mixed in among the other men, and mistook a long-lensed camera for an RPG.” (Khatchadourian 2010)
Shortly after, referring to a wounded man who appeared to be unarmed, “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” a soldier in the Apache said. Rightly described as ‘chilling’, Khatchadourian explains “in part because the banter of the soldiers was so far beyond the boundaries of civilian discourse”. This footage was uncovered as a result of the efforts of Australian journalist and the editor-in-chief of the website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. Deeply disturbed by an analysis of the film Assange saw these events in sharply delineated moral terms, yet the footage did not offer easy legal judgments (Khatchadourian) That is because, when discussing an issue like hactvisim or whistleblowing, there is a strong element of morality because of the people involved. And the relationship between law and morality is a finicky one. No one has since been held legally accountable for the events, the two journalists, and an unaccounted for number of unarmed civilians killed.
However at the very least, this act of hacktivism gave these people identity and recognition. For the sake of offering fundamental rights to innocent victims of war, in cases like this it’s not hard to see why there is not only a demand for access to otherwise restricted data and information, but a need for it.
In light of this, I’ve recently being paying attention to a prominent case of whistle blowing. One that I would say is on a different end of the spectrum to acts of hactivism like the ones committed by Julian Assange. 21 year old student Freya Newman, is now facing court charged with accessing restricted data after she deliberately used the password of another staff member to gain information regarding a scholarship awarded to the Prime Minister’s daughter.
The information was not leaked to an ombudsman or any internal agencies, but to the media. This fact may skew the publics perception of why Freya Newman did what she did. In reflection however, as a result of her actions the young student now faces constant media harrassment and may eventually have criminal charges. Knowing this makes it hard to see her motivation in any other light then for the interest of the public. The original article with sources can be found here.
Like I mentioned in my previous blog, using an individuals private information without consent is always a flagrant violation of that person’s right to privacy. However I can see justification in this, if the cause motivating the action is relevant to the public interest, or reveals injustices. It’s always going to be a thin line. In the case of Frances Abbott & Freya Newman, which shines light on knowledge of a private education institute giving a free education to the daughter of a Prime Minister, whose policies directly benefit the private education industry, I think it’s fair to say that the cause outweighed any wrong-doing by the whistleblower.
While acts like hacking and whistleblowing can often teter on the moral fence, they are needed. Needed to cover the ground that professional journalists (a profession that has a pre-requsite in ‘investigating’, whatever the interpretation) cannot or do not have access to i.e private education institutions. They are also need for the balance of news media ecology.
There’s plenty of laws to prosecute those who violate the privacy of others, whatever the motivation. But with a clear sense that we do need more people like Julian Assange and Freya Newman because they reveal things that ultimately we do want and need to know – why are there no sufficient laws in place to protect them?
The lack of protection for whistleblowers in Australia “makes life more difficult for journalists, particularly those who cover business or other private sector wrongdoing and need to rely on confidential information obtained from all sectors of society to shine a light into things others would rather stayed hidden.” – (Robin 2014)
Khatchadourian, R. (2010) ‘No Secrets: Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency’ The New Yorker, June 7. [URL: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/06/07/100607fa_fact_khatchadourian%5D
Robin, M. (2014) ‘Frances Abbott leak reveals legal blackhole for whistleblowers’, Crikey, Aug 08 2014, http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/08/08/frances-abbott-leak-reveals-legal-blackhole-for-whistleblowers/