The United Nations comments on Wikileaks

December 23, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More

On December 21, 2010, Frank LaRue (the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression) and Catalina Botero (the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression) have issued a Joint Statement on Wikileaks.  This statement is carefully crafted and right on the mark. It will piss off American conservatives who still care one whit about freedom of speech issues because it is written in the spirit of the First Amendment.  It was written “in light of ongoing developments related to the release of diplomatic cables by the organization Wikileaks.

The Statement recognizes the critical importance of the free flow of information for the preservation of democratic societies.  It advocates that a stiff burden of proof should be on those who attempt to stifle any form of speech with claims of national security.  It recognizes the important work done by journalists and whistle-blowers.  It condemns the following:

– Politically motivated legal cases brought against journalists and independent media,

– The blocking of websites and web domains on political grounds and

– Calls by public officials for illegitimate retributive action.

The only fault I find with the statement is that the issuing organizations have protected it with traditional copyright. that is so 20th Century.  Something of this importance and magnitude should have been been issued accordance with Creative Commons or with “no rights reserved” to reach the broadest possible audience.  Here are the first two articles of the Statement:

1. The right to access information held by public authorities is a fundamental human right subject to a strict regime of exceptions. The right to access to information protects the right of every person to access public information and to know what governments are doing on their behalf. It is a right that has received particular attention from the international community, given its importance to the consolidation, functioning and preservation of democratic regimes. Without the protection of this right, it is impossible for citizens to know the truth, demand accountability and fully exercise their right to political participation. National authorities should take active steps to ensure the principle of maximum transparency, address the culture of secrecy that still prevails in many countries and increase the amount of information subject to routine disclosure.

2. At the same time, the right of access to information should be subject to a narrowly tailored system of exceptions to protect overriding public and private interests such as national security and the rights and security of other persons. Secrecy laws should define national security precisely and indicate clearly the criteria which should be used in determining whether or not information can be declared secret. Exceptions to access to information on national security or other grounds should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information. In accordance with international standards, information regarding human rights violations should not be considered secret or classified.

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Category: Censorship, Communication, Community, Secrecy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (1)

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  1. Mike M. says:

    Hooray!…um,.. nevermind.

    I found the 1st article of this UN statement so encouraging– intelligently presented and shockingly unexpected. But then the 2nd paragraph quickly provided a needle for my balloon: "the right of access to information should be subject to a narrowly tailored system of exceptions to protect overriding public and private interest." Huh?? What exactly will be the parameters of this ambiguous "overriding public and private interest"? With this one sweepingly vague caveat, the UN managed to completely declaw their previous bold statement and magically render their entire stance meaningless.

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