Patching a leaky boat

In media/political parlance, the term "leak" is an extraordinary euphemism. Its use in the media denies any sort of human agency in the activity -- never does someone leak a document; rather, merely, the document was leaked. All of the clandestine moral ambiguity is transferred from the person who perpetrated the leak onto the document itself, and then if the document is especially damning, somehow it ends up back on the organisation responsible for the document, as if not only should they have never created the document, but they should also have been especially careful to keep it confidential. Huh?

Anyway, I've never met a leak I didn't like. I am a big fan of openness and transparency, and these seem to me to be things leaks facilitate. Ideally they should be unnecessary, but in practical terms they're probably going to be as good as we're going to get. When I cogitate on a particular leak, it usually warms my heart to think that someone in a large government organisation has had their conscience troubled so much that they have jeopardised their position to release information. That's a nice thing to know about your otherwise shadowy public servants, I reckon. How Rumsfeld's memo got leaked today, and by whom, I am infinitely intrigued about.

I don't know a whole lot about the process of leaking a document. I would like to know more than I do, but both sides conspire to keep the details quiet. That's okay; I'm just curious. One thing I do know is that the digital transfer of documents via new technology, especially email, has led to an increase in the instance of leaked documents, because it makes the process easier and more difficult to monitor. Which is another string in the bow of new tech as a democratizing force.

In this context, I'm a little concerned by this feature of Microsoft Outlook 2003, which has just been released:

Control distribution of sensitive work. Help protect your company assets by preventing recipients from forwarding, copying, or printing important e-mail messages by using information rights management (IRM) functionality. You can even specify an expiration date for the message, after which it cannot be viewed or otherwise acted upon. IRM functionality requires Microsoft Windows Server™ 2003 running Microsoft Windows® Rights Management Services (RMS).

All US and Australian government organisations use Microsoft software for just about everything. What do you think? Will this lead to a decrease in the practice of conscientious leaking and whistleblowing?

Joseph | 23 Oct 2003

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