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WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 2, 2011
"WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency" by Micah L. Sifry offers both a philosophical and practical assessment of the WikiLeaks phenomenon and the revolutionary path it may portend for the future. Mr. Sifry, who has years of experience reporting on technology and working for the cause of greater transparency and accountability in government, is the right man for the job. Mr. Sifry's keen perceptiveness and familiarity with many of the key players in the openness movement (including several interactions with Julian Assange) has prepared the author to deliver an extraordinarily astute and thought-provoking book.

Mr. Sifry does a superb job of contextualizing WikiLeaks' moment in history. Mr. Sifry describes as only he can how the Internet has provided a platform for the distribution of information, with results that can be quite discomfiting to those in power. He believes the controversy surrounding WikiLeaks has to do with its spectacular exposure of the contradictions of U.S. government policy: in which the rights of people elsewhere to challenge sovereign power is expressed on the one hand; while on the other hand, little to no tolerance is permitted when its own privileges might seem to have come under scrutiny.

Sharing his own personal experiences, Mr. Sifry discusses many lesser-known web sites that are subtly but inexorably changing politics as we know it. As Mr. Sifry demonstrates, the overall trend has been towards the wider sharing and use of information. Some might be surprised that the author's main concern is not that government and business could ever succeed at putting the information genie back in the bottle; rather it is about the rate at which ordinary citizens can adapt to a new reality in which we have access to much more information than ever before possible.

On that point, Mr. Sifry reopens the WikiLeaks case to discuss its meaning for participatory democracies. Although Mr. Sifry does not believe that Assange's peculiar personality and WikiLeaks' frequently-changing mission statement has helped its cause, he unreservedly supports the public's right to know what its government is doing. Although it should probably come as no surprise that certain dim wit politicians would lash out at WikiLeaks, the many attempts to prosecute Assange and to close the site does raise concerns about how the public might be able to permanently secure a stable platform for discussing important issues without fear of censorship or reprisal.

I highly recommend this outstanding book to everyone.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2011
Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency (2011) by Micah Sifry is an interesting but flawed book about Wikileaks and how the internet is changing politics. It uses the fame of Wikileaks to promote the author's own agenda.

Sifry is a successful and interesting person who set up the Personal Democracy Forum and works with Techsoup in similar domains. The book refers to his endeavors repeatedly. It's a serious problem with the book that it is annoyingly self-promoting.

What's good about the book is that it places Wikileaks in context which is so important and is often so lacking in discussions about Wikileaks. Sifry points out that Crypthome was doing what Wikileaks does long before it did but hasn't had nearly the impact that Wikileaks has had. In addition to this Wikileaks is just one of a myriad of sites and movements that the internet has made possible. Sifry discusses the Move On movement, the Tea Party and the uprisings in the Middle East and points out that they have a lot in common.

Sifry writes about how the internet means that far more government, corporate and non-profit information is now available easily to people. He also writes about how various government have repeatedly made noise about how they would put more information online and then have usually backed off.

Sifry also makes good points about Wikileaks and points out that what it is doing is providing information that causes foreign regimes problems with openness, such as with Wikileaks role in Kenya and other places, but that it is also doing it to Western democracies.

The book contains a lot of good ideas but is flawed. It would be great if the author, or someone else, wrote another more considered, less self-promoting work about how the massive increase in electronic information that is happening is changing politics. This book is still worth reading but is ultimately unsatisfying because it fails to put together a really coherent, deeper and more considered view.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2011
Micah Sifry's work has long been at the cutting edge of the intersection of technology and policy. (Note: He's a friend.) In this book, he does a terrific journalistic service: He connects the dots and offers context.

The book, as the title suggests, is less about WikiLeaks -- though there's plenty of nuanced discussion about that controversial media innovator -- than about the emerging information ecosystem. Transparency is being forced upon opaque institutions and practices. On balance this is a positive development, but the downsides are not trivial.

If you want to know why WikiLeaks matters so much, how it fits into that wider ecosystem and why these developments are so important to the future of politics and policy, you won't find a better place to start than this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2014
This book demonstrates the advantages of reading books about issues over watching the news. Up to when I read this book, I had only heard snippets about things that Wikileaks had leaked, but nothing that really explained what it was all about. This book really helped to put it into the broader perspective of transparency in general. Well worth reading.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency" is an introduction to the transparency or information activist movement by Micah Sifry, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) and the Sunlight Foundation, with a forward by PdF's co-founder Andrew Rasiej. It is not a treatise on Wikileaks but an overview of the political successes, failures, and the author's hopes for the new transparency and connectivity afforded by the internet. There is a teaser regarding Sifry's first encounter with Julian Assange in Chapter 1, but Wikileaks is not discussed again until Chapter 7. Then Chapter 8 is dedicated entirely to Sifry's opinion of the organization.

Sifry is a transparency activist in the cause of "open source politics" or "collaborative government" specifically. Democracy-with-a-small-d. He views the emerging role of the citizen as an "active player" rather than a "passive consumer" of political information, enabled by the internet, and he cites some impressive examples of crowd-sourced projects that have had political impact. He goes on to criticize the Obama administration in the US and the Cameron administration in the UK for spewing empty rhetoric about transparency, though there are individual politicians in both countries who have embraced two-way communication with their constituents.

It's important to understand that Micah Sifry views transparency, whistleblowing, and the like as a means to collaborative government, not to anything else. This explains the narrow scope of this book, his comments about Wikileaks, and a certain naïveté. I choked when Sifry suggested that politicians and government agencies should open themselves up to online comments. That takes an enormous amount of time to sift through and produces an absurdly small number of coherent, useful comments in a sea of spam, vitriol, and blather. They get nothing more of value than when people sent suggestions by postal mail, but they have to work a lot harder for it.

I knew before I read "Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency" that Micah Sifry was a supporter of Wikileaks but a critic of Julian Assange. Now I understand why. Sifry offers the usual criticisms of Assange's "autocratic" management style. Ironically, Sifry's own comments make a strong case against a more democratic structure for Wikileaks. Julian Assange has been very successful at uniting an ideologically diverse group of people to work toward a common goal -without agreeing on what that goal is- a feat for which he does not get enough credit. It only occasionally backfires, as in Daniel Domscheit-Berg's acrimonious split from the organization.

Sifry says that "it's far from clear that Assange is just interested in exposing oppressive and unethical behavior." I should hope not. Exposing corruption is well and good, but it doesn't scale, and it's hardly revolutionary. I'm bewildered by people like Sifry who think Wikileaks should adopt their values rather than Assange's. It makes me grateful for Assange's iron grip on strategy. But that isn't why I give this book a mediocre rating. It is, at times, little more than a list of transparency's successes and failures, without analysis. It's superficial and simplistic. It might serve adequately as an introduction to one version of information activism, but I suspect the book is preaching to the choir.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2012
I picked this up thinking it would be about Julian Assange. Instead it is a an account of how the internet and social networking combines to uncover information governments and others would rather not have read by the great unwashed-us in the general public. For anyone wanting a background primer on the forces driving WikiLeaks, this is recommended. I note Micah Sifry is labelled a conservative in the area of activism. This comes across as an even hand when reflecting on the increasing power of social networking. The "Tea Party" use of electronic media and flash mobbing gets a mention alongside "Anonymous" and its ability to hack and interfere with mainstream users, including Amazon. Julian does get some mention including the steps leading to his current exile. What I liked was the context. What has been reported as to what happened. Likewise, this book gave me heart reading of a number of social activism actions undertaken by social networkers such as exposing unfolding genocide in Sudan, the labelled "Arab Spring". On the whole it reminds those of us who are not fans of social networking the power and worth of this medium and that it will not be going away. More importantly it reminds us of the danger of secrecy and the power this gives to the holder. My disappointment is, two fold; as someone living in Australia, it is mainly focused on America and mr Sifry's own game plan. Oh well. But still a worthwhile read. Sent me out onto the internet to follow up some sites. All good!
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