February 21, 2011, 7:49 AM — One of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of the Internet has been the emergence and growth of WikiLeaks, the Web-based international repository and distribution point for whistle-blower documents and other content that governments and businesses would rather we, the hoi poli, did not know about.
In its brief, four-year life, WikiLeaks has become a remarkable force that Time Magazine suggested "... could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act." The truth is that whether we like it or not, WikiLeaks has already become far more important and powerful than that.
Now, whether you applaud or abhor what WikiLeaks has done in releasing material such as the Secret US Embassy Cables (Cablegate), 1966-2010 and the Iraq War Logs, 2004-2009, you have to recognize three very important lessons that WikiLeaks has taught us. Curiously, these lessons can all be related to the phrase "letting the cat out of the bag".
Lesson One: People want to know about the cat. People, AKA "the public", actually do care about the inner workings of government and corporations and when cover-ups and dirty deals are exposed, righteous anger will be stirred up that usually has serious consequences. Why was the cat in the bag? Who put it there? Who held the bag? How long was the cat in the bag for?
Lesson Two: Once the cat is out of the bag, you can't cover up its escape. The problem appears once the cat is digital, then it can be cloned and distributed at the speed of anger and every reference, comment, insight, and shred of supporting evidence gets linked, spidered, and curated somewhere and everywhere.
The Internet ensures that once the cat is de-bagged you can't stop or even slow down distribution of its existence and confinement. Now we have new questions: Who knew about the cat? How big is the cat? Who owned it and who now owns it? How much did they pay for the cat? What color is it?
Lesson Three: No organization or individual is immune to their cat bagging being exposed. Unless you work by yourself, isolate your computer from any form of communication (even with a keyboard), are burglary-proof, and never, ever talk to anyone about stuff that others might care about, you cannot guarantee that your secrets will stay that way.