The recent release of internal State Department cables by WikiLeaks, assisted by a coalition of news outlets in the United States and Europe, has been viewed as a national security matter -- have confidential sources been compromised? Could relations between the United States and Russia (or Italy or France or Pakistan) be permanently damaged?
But one can take an even longer view of the meaning of the WikiLeaks campaign: by exposing the candid workings of government, the project and its leader, Julian Assange, have transformed the debate over Internet privacy from one about the individual to one about the government.
In the aftermath, many of the sharpest critics of WikiLeaks have belittled what has been learned, saying the material appears meant to humiliate the United States with embarrassing assessments of world leaders rather than inform the public of gross misbehavior. The damage to the government instead relates to the loss of the confidentiality needed to conduct foreign affairs. WikiLeaks, Facebook and the perils of oversharing