The attention-catching part is where Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg proclaims that “WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Wants To Spill Your Corporate Secrets“:
Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on Wikileaks.org with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.
When? Which bank? What documents? Cagey as always, Assange won’t say, so his claim is impossible to verify. But he has always followed through on his threats. Sitting for a rare interview in a London garden flat on a rainy November day, he compares what he is ready to unleash to the damning e-mails that poured out of the Enron trial: a comprehensive vivisection of corporate bad behavior. “You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,” he says, refusing to characterize the coming release in more detail. “But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.”
Already U.S. laws wrapped into financial reform this year expand whistleblower incentives to offer six- and seven-digit rewards to staffers in any industry who report malfeasance.(1) WikiLeaks adds another, new form of corporate data breach: It offers the conscience-stricken and vindictive alike a chance to publish documents largely unfiltered, without censors or personal repercussions, thanks to privacy and encryption technologies that make anonymity easier than ever before. WikiLeaks’ technical and ideological example has inspired copycats from Africa to China and rallied transparency advocates to push for a new, legal promised land in the unlikely haven of Iceland. It’s also fueling a race in the cybersecurity industry and in Washington to find technology that can plug information leaks once for all…
But it’s Greenberg’s discussion of Assange’s, and/or WikiLeak’s, wider goals that make the whole article worth reading:
Over the last four years he has been so busy embarrassing various governments, from Washington to the corrupt Kenyan regime of Daniel arap Moi, that many forget the corporate scandals already on WikiLeaks’ trophy wall. In January 2008 the site posted documents alleging that the Swiss bank Julius Baer hid clients’ profits from even the Swiss government, concealing them in what seemed to be shell companies in the Cayman Islands. The bank filed a lawsuit against WikiLeaks for publishing data stolen from its clients. Baer later dropped the suit—but managed to stir up embarrassing publicity for itself. The next year WikiLeaks published documents from a pharma trade group implying that its lobbyists were receiving confidential documents from and exerting influence over a World Health Organization project to fund drug research in the developing world. The resulting attention helped crater the WHO project…
How can an American corporation respond to a Wiki attack? Lawsuits won’t work: WikiLeaks is legally shielded in the U.S. by its role as a mere conduit for documents. Even if a company somehow won a judgment against WikiLeaks, that wouldn’t shut it down. Assange spreads the site’s assets over many countries. “There’s no single target to drop a bomb on,” says Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University.
The best protection? With a dash of irony Icelandic WikiLeaks staffer Kristinn Hrafnsson suggests that companies change their ways to avoid targeting. “They should resist the temptation to enter into corruption,” he says. Don Tapscott, coauthor of The Naked Corporation (Free Press, 2003), agrees. His simplistic conclusion: “Open your own kimono. You’re going to be naked. So you have to dig deep, look at your whole operation, make sure that integrity is part of your bones.”
There’s much, much more — all of it well worth reading — including a separate interview with Assange:
Would you call yourself a free market proponent?
Absolutely. I have mixed attitudes towards capitalism, but I love markets. Having lived and worked in many countries, I can see the tremendous vibrancy in, say, the Malaysian telecom sector compared to U.S. sector. In the U.S. everything is vertically integrated and sewn up, so you don’t have a free market. In Malaysia, you have a broad spectrum of players, and you can see the benefits for all as a result.
How do your leaks fit into that?
To put it simply, in order for there to be a market, there has to be information. A perfect market requires perfect information.
There’s the famous lemon example in the used car market. It’s hard for buyers to tell lemons from good cars, and sellers can’t get a good price, even when they have a good car. By making it easier to see where the problems are inside of companies, we identify the lemons. That means there’s a better market for good companies. For a market to be free, people have to know who they’re dealing with.
You’ve developed a reputation as anti-establishment and anti-institution.
Not at all. Creating a well-run establishment is a difficult thing to do, and I’ve been in countries where institutions are in a state of collapse, so I understand the difficulty of running a company. Institutions don’t come from nowhere.
It’s not correct to put me in any one philosophical or economic camp, because I’ve learned from many. But one is American libertarianism, market libertarianism. So as far as markets are concerned I’m a libertarian, but I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free.
I wonder how — if — the most prominent American market libertarians are going to react to this argument? Doesn’t seem like it would be an easy path for those funded by people like the Koch brothers, whose empire is so largely based on secrecy and preventing transparency at all costs.
(1) Bolding mine. I consider myself moderately aware of American politics in general, and I’d never heard about this particular improvement. Perhaps I’m just the last to know?
(h/t commentor El Cid)