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Wikileaks and libraries: anatomy of a chilling effect


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Panel presentation for Special Library Association (SLA) bay area chapter Sunshine Week event March 30, 2011. Panel included Declan McCullagh, Chief political correspondent and senior writer for CNET and Rainey Reitman, Activism Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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Wikileaks and libraries: anatomy of a chilling effect

  1. 1. Wikileaks and libraries: anatomy of a chilling effect James Jacobs Stanford University March 30, 2011 SLA Bay Area Sunshine Week 2011 panel jrjacobs@stanford.eduWednesday, March 30, 2011
  2. 2. Agenda What’s Stanford Library doing? Role of the library Community response/debate Survey resultsWednesday, March 30, 2011honor to be on the panel with Declan McCullagh and Rainey Reitman. I’ve been a long-timefan of Declan’s journalistic work and the work of everyone at EFF
  3. 3. Stanford Library Cataloged Wikileaks cable site OCLC# 694146844 [ ] Cataloged CableSearch [ ] Periodically downloading torrent of Cable site archive Have not as yet given access to local copiesWednesday, March 30, 2011Early December, 2010 CableSearch was created by the European Centre of Computer AssistedResearch and Dutch-Flemish association for investigative journalists to index and providefulltext search of cables as they’re released. they’re currently indexing 6372 cables (about 2%of total). now have an alert service, full text search, tag clouds of popular search terms, oftenused words, and tags as well as an API so that other developers can query the database andcreate mashups.
  4. 4. Community response Much chatter on library listservs ALA Midwinter discussions and resolutions (late January) Wikileaks survey to guage library action (February 8) Bill Sleeman op-ed “A Librarian reacts to Wikileaks” & “A librarian reacts to ‘A librarian reacts to WikiLeaks’” [ node/3178 ] (February 9)Wednesday, March 30, 2011Op-ed piece for Center for Journalism Ethics at UWiscconflates and ignores several issues surrounding Wikileaks the organization and the leaked US State Department cables themselvesBill’s arguments: 1. The cables were stolen, released (“dumped”) in an irresponsible manner and unauthenticated; 2. Assanges motivations are unclear; 3. Wikileaks release of information could lead to an undesired effect of *less* openness. 4. In other words, Bill is looking from a perspective of whether or not libraries/librarians should support Wikileaks. He comes to the conclusion that they should not.Our counterarguments:1. cables were in fact leaked *not* stolen, released in conjunction with reputable news organizations in a responsible manner, and authenticated by the govts responses andactions following the leak. Only 6321 of 251,287 have been released (15, 652 secret, 101,748 confidential, 133,887 unclassified but unclear where those 6321 fall) afterbeing vetted and redacted by WL and news orgs.2. Can’t base collections decision solely on classification status. If that were the case, then Pentagon Papers would need to be taken off the shelf as it has never beendeclassified.3. Claiming the release *could* cause harm has actually caused harm in the form of a chilling effect on libraries. One could easily argue that the cable release will *not* causeharm but will usher in a new era of govt transparency. Both speculations muddy the waters and cause libraries to ignore the real question: “What should libraries DO about thecables?”
  5. 5. Wikileaks library survey 3 of 69 libraries cataloged link to WK cable site 1 of 70 currently downloading cables 2 of 67 plan to download 35/35 split on whether libraries should preserve and give access 44 Academic, 12 Public, 6 Law, 4 Special, 4 Other, March 30, 2011NOT a scientific survey and only distributed to govt docs library forums (govdoc-l, godort, FGI).1) Has your library cataloged the wikileaks cable site link for inclusion in your library catalog?2) Are you currently downloading the Wikileaks cable archive for your library?3) If yes, how are you giving access to your librarys users?4) If no, do you plan to download the Wikileaks cable archive?5) If you arent or do not have plans to download, why not?6) Do you think it is important for libraries to preserve and give access to wikileaks cables?7) Please explain your answer to Q68) Please feel free to comment here on any issue regarding the Wikileaks diplomatic cables9) In what kind of library do you work?
  6. 6. Some survey responses The cables are stolen goods. If someone left a box of stolen books at my library door, I wouldnt accession them without the owners consent. That said, I think libraries should preserve the digital content of the cables and seek permission from the owners to make them public. These are U.S. government state secrets. Illegal on their face. Courts should decide about legality, etc. Wikileaks cables are classified and/or proprietary information These are still classified documents. As a Federal Depository Library, I feel obligated to stay within the law. Maybe SOME libraries could do, but not all. I dont know if our library would consider it in scope. I think some libraries should be archiving and preserving this information for future generations and to ensure access to the information for current users. Preservation and access are huge parts of our mission as libraries. It is important for them to be preserved but not necessarily libraries, maybe NARA, LC, or other secure repositories, March 30, 2011here are some sample responses. I tried to pick both +/- responses.clear chilling effect is happening. many of the responses questioned the legality of the cables, calledthem stolen goods.most indicative response was #1shows the cognitive dissonance in the community and clearly this dissonance is leading to inaction.Frankly I was surprised by the response given that the library community is seen by itself and by thepublic as a strong defender of privacy, civil rights, and access to information.Stems from MSM coverage, response to WL by US companies (Amazon, Paypal, BoA etc) and USlegislators.My hope is that every librarian here today will bring this discussion back to their libraries and will atleast catalog the link to the WL site. I will continue to advocate for many libraries archiving/preserving/giving access to the WL cables and digital govt information in general. one cannot guarantee thepreservation or integrity of information without explicit effort. The idea of distributed preservation andaccess is at the core of the Federal Depository Library Program. It’s critical to continue this mission inthe digital age.