The controversy that has arisen around Wikileaks brings to mind the Isaac Asimov story “The Dead Past”, published in 1956. This story presents a future in which there exists a device that allows scientists to observe events in the distant past, though access to that device is so strictly controlled that no one ever gets to use it! Finally, one researcher is so driven to verify certain historical events that he decides to build his own device. The authorities catch up with him, but too late – by that time the damage had been done.
You see, according to Asimov's interpretation, there is no distinction between the "distant" and "immediate" past. The fact that the device could replay events of the distant past was relegated to being a mere novelty in light of its more pernicious ability – to replay events that took place just milliseconds ago! Indeed, the device in Asimov’s story opened that future society to a floodgate of constant and arbitrary surveillance!
Wikileaks was founded on a poetic, philosophical and abstract principle: that many people would act as whistle-blowers to expose corruption, injustice and fraud, if there was an anonymous way to "leak" documents that contained incriminating information. Like Superman, Wikipedia seemed to be here to "fight for truth, justice, and the American way"! The site was set up as a clearinghouse for such documents, with simple guidelines: documents would be published as they were, they would not be verified, and they would not be removed.
Those simple guidelines, like the simple device in Asimov’s story, did exactly what it was supposed to do… and unexpectedly yielded dangerous power! How can Wikileaks remove information from their site without abandoning their principles? And if they do remove information from their site, what criteria must they implement regarding all future and past data that is published? And even if they were to shut down entirely, the genie has been let out of the bottle! The void left by one Wikileaks.org will surely be filled by another.