Wikileaks and Freedom, Autonomy and Sovereignty in the Cloud

I have written an article on the future of sovereignty in the age of Wikileaks. I welcome Your comments.

"The hidden power structures and the inner workings of these states within the state are exposed by another imperium in imperio, a secretive organization, whose agenda is far from transparent, whose members, resources are unknown, holding back an indefinite amount of information both on itself and on its opponents. The mantra of Wikileaks supporters and the mantra of state and corporate executives are shockingly identical: “We share no information on ourselves; we gather information on everyone else. Only our secrets are valid secrets.” The Eye of Providence on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, surrounded by the words Annuit Cœptis (He approves our undertakings), and Novus Ordo Seclorum, (New Order of the Ages) could very well be the seal of Wikileaks as well."


In 2010, an organization called Wikileaks started to publish hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables and military documents, acquired from anonymous whistleblowers. The publication of these documents marks the beginning of a new era. While all the critical information within these organizations is already digital, never has the firewall between a secret and a public knowledge been thinner. Sharing secrets and in the same time preserving anonymity seems to be easier than ever. And as the continuous accessibility of Wikileaks so far has proved, even the most powerful sovereign in the world can do little to contain a leak after it has happened. State sovereignty and corporate autonomy needs to be rethought.

But not only their self-determination is in question. Wikileaks itself has also come under attack: their access to the global payment system was cut, their hosting provider stopped serving them and their access to the global Domain Name System was also curtailed, despite the fact that no official charges were made against the organization. These steps have so far been inadequate to make Wikileaks disappear or to stop the dissemination of the confidential materials. But the questions still linger: what are the critical infrastructures that are absolutely necessary for any digital, networked organization to survive? Are there any real gatekeepers on the web, and if there are, who are they, and how powerful they are? How effective is their control over the critical infostructures? To what extent can any organization expect to be sovereign in the cloud?

„You have no sovereignty where we gather.” John Perry Barlow’s words (Barlow 1996) that declared the independence of cyberspace now mark a full-blown cyber-war between states, corporations and ad-hoc, informal, hacktivist networks over the issues of sovereignty, autonomy, self-determination on both sides of what has been the cyber/real divide. But that distinction does not have any meaning anymore. Cyberspace is not another, distant, secluded space which Barlow envisioned. The declaration of the cyberspace is not the foundation of a sovereign in a far away land. Cyberspace is in the very heart of traditional institutions: the state, economic enterprises, society. And the question now is whether cyberspace can be inserted into the societal order, which – at least in principle – rests on mutual checks and balances, on an equilibrium that ensures that no power is left unchecked. Is it true that states have no sovereignty in cyberspace? And what happens when the citizens of the cyberspace start to gather inside the state, inside the corporations, easily crossing that never-existent border between cyberspace and the “real world”? What is left of the sovereignty of the state, the autonomy of our traditional institutions when they start to gather [and? to?] put these institutions under constant surveillance?

The outcome of this conflict greatly depends on the role everyday citizens will play in this power universe. The digital traces of our online being serve as the most important raw material in the digital economy. Also, (digital) transparency is the key concept in the Foucauldian understanding of power, as it serves to maintain and reproduce power-relations within society. On the other hand, these individually impotent and powerless users can quickly team up into informal, anonymous, ad-hoc action networks that from time-to-time make a powerful impact. Wikileaks is the most recent and most potent tool in the hands of these crowds as it enables resistance to power both by the anonymity it offers and by the leaks which force transparency upon the state. The real question is whether Wikileaks can be a true emancipatory force, which will lead anonymous crowds to a self-aware use of these powers and to fulfill their actual potential?

Does Wikileaks mark the rise of a new sovereign in our world? A new world power which lacks standing armies, natural resources, the strategic geopolitical location, and the financial might that characterized world powers before? A new sovereign, which draws its power from both the ability to disrupt the information flows, and the ability to provide anonymity to its users? A new power which is sovereign because in the fragmented infrastructure landscape of the internet, it can always find refuge from where it can safely operate? A power which is organized unlike any other power so far, because it exists beyond the formal structures of law, economy and society?

Soon we will find out.

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