About 10 years ago, shortly after the birth of Napster, videos documenting police violence at the G8 in Genoa started to circulate on the p2p networks. Those who witnessed and filmed the event knew that their videos couldn’t have made their way into mainstream media because that would have cast the government in too much of a bad light, so they uploaded them into the grassroots network that they were already using to share music.
Nobody noticed back then because it was a sporadic event, and when that same technology started crashing the entertainment industry, that’s what grabbed the headlines.
If anything, it’s surprising that it took 10 years for the unauthorized leak of sensitive information to go mainstream, and for Wikileaks to establish itself.
What is not surprising, is the hysterical reaction by established institutions, that are behaving just like the music industry did, quite possibly with the same results.
Prosecuting Shawn Fanning didn’t stop peer2peer, and did no good to the music industry. Prosecuting Julian Assange isn’t going to stop Wikileaks. Even if Assange was to be taken out of the equation, someone else will set up a digital presence to allow people to anonymously upload any information that they deem should go public.
There is a significant demand, there is a digital infrastructure, there are very low barriers. No effort from any governmental institution can balance the opportunities for atomized publication and sharing that digital has brought along. And just saying that something is different from how things should be done, or even dangerous, is not going to stop it. Anyone who doesn’t understand this, doesn’t understand the XXI century.
Technology is not a question that legislators can answer “yes” or “no” to. Once adopted by a significant amount of people, technology is a fact.
(Update: Dave Winer makes the same point here.)