Look before you leak

This morning’s Observer column.

In the annals of the net, one of the sacred texts is John Gilmore’s aphorism that “the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. Mr Gilmore is a celebrated engineer, entrepreneur and libertarian activist, who is regarded by the US Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and men in suits everywhere as a pain in the ass. He was the fifth employee of Sun Microsystems, which meant that he made a lot of money early in life, and he has devoted the rest of his time to spending it on a variety of excellent causes. These include: creating the ‘alt’ (for alternative) hierarchy in the Usenet discussion fora; open-source software; drugs law reform; philanthropy; and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which last week won a notable concession from the Library of Congress to legalise the “jailbreaking” of one’s iPhone – ie liberating it from Apple’s technical shackles).

The aphorism came up a lot last week following publication by the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel of extensive reports based on the stash of classified US military reports published on the WikiLeaks website. And of course in one sense this latest publishing coup does appear to confirm Gilmore’s original insight. But at the same time it grossly underestimates the amount of determination and technical ingenuity needed to make sure that the aphorism continues to hold good…