The threat to freedom of information

Looking back at 2010: A very social world, writes Asia Sentinel’s Vanson Soo

The world has changed. More than ever before, it is dominated by two opposing forces: the compulsion to share information and the need to control it. The year 2010 can claim to have a pivotal spot in the technological history of mankind, though not evidently for the better.

On the eve of the New Year, I began to wonder what some of the most significant world events were and which of these stood out. How could they further have an impact on a world already paranoid about privacy and national security on one hand, and obsessed with the advancement of techno-devices on the other?

The WikiLeaks headlines obviously top the list on a global scale, followed by the Google pullout from China, which left its mark on the world of corporate espionage. Third is the pressure exerted on the Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM) to hand over its Blackberry encryption to several governments.

Google's withdrawal from China was one of the talking points of 2010. Pic: AP.

These three events signify a paradigm shift in the gathering and sharing of information.

Where do you draw the line between the freedom of information flow and the right by authorities to control and seize information for the sake of national security? The advance of the Internet in the 1990s, along with the increasing popularity of handheld devices and social networking platforms over the past decade, have further contributed to the blurring of this divide.

The corporate world has also taken this cue to gain from the arbitrage of information.

The WikiLeaks releases over the past month — a quarter of a million official messages and diplomatic cables dealing with how the United States conducts its foreign policy, have definitely left a scar not only on diplomatic relations. That doesn’t mean just with America but any country seeking to conduct private bilateral dialogues. It is a reminder to everyone on what, what not and how to say, write or convey a message/opinion in any medium. It also demonstrates the growing power of online reporting, from citizen-reporting news portals to YouTube and now WikiLeaks.