Daily Archives: 2010-12-08

Wikileaks, security research and policy

A number of media organisations have been asking us about Wikileaks. Fifteen years ago we kicked off the study of censorship resistant systems, which inspired the peer-to-peer movement; we help maintain Tor, which provides the anonymous communications infrastructure for Wikileaks; and we’ve a longstanding interest in information policy.

I have written before about governments’ love of building large databases of sensitive data to which hundreds of thousands of people need access to do their jobs – such as the NHS spine, which will give over 800,000 people access to our health records. The media are now making the link. Whether sensitive data are about health or about diplomacy, the only way forward is compartmentation. Medical records should be kept in the surgery or hospital where the care is given; and while an intelligence analyst dealing with Iraq might have access to cables on Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, he should have no routine access to stuff on Korea or Brazil.

So much for the security engineering; now to policy. No-one questions the US government’s right to try one of its soldiers for leaking the cables, or the right of the press to publish them now that they’re leaked. But why is Wikileaks treated as the leaker, rather than as a publisher?

This leads me to two related questions. First, does a next-generation censorship-resistant system need a more resilient technical platform, or more respectable institutions? And second, if technological change causes respectable old-media organisations such as the Guardian and the New York Times to go bust and be replaced by blogs, what happens to freedom of the press, and indeed to freedom of speech?