Now even governments feel the heat, says Crisis Solutions media consultant Jim Preen, discussing the repercussions of WikiLeaks disclosures

Earlier in 2010, Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about internet freedom, which many interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyber attack on Google. “Information has never been so free,“ she said. “Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”

However, she has recently called the WikiLeaks disclosures “not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests, but an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.”

It seems that in the ‘Land of the Free,’ freedom of information is not always welcome.

A few years ago when we typically wrote on paper, the amount of information contained in the recent WikiLeaks disclosures would have been physically huge and almost impossible to smuggle. Now information can be digitised and an email containing millions of words can be transmitted in the blink of an eye. So what can businesses learn from these events?

It may seem screamingly obvious but email, and indeed most other forms of modern communication, are often far from secure. Remember how easy it was for The News of the World newspaper to hack into celebrity voicemails?

If your colleagues or clients request confidential information, be security conscious. Are you cleared to provide this information to others and are they cleared to receive it? If they are, make sure they are happy to get the information by email. If there are concerns, and with sensitive information there should be, encrypt the documents on a thumb drive or a CD and have it delivered personally by a courier or deliver it yourself.

WikiLeaks has shown us that the great and the good behave in remarkably similar ways to us lesser mortals. They fire off irritated and irritating emails just like us – it is so easy to do. When you had to write a letter it took time and was a more considered form of communication. Now an angry or indeed libellous response to an email can be shot back at your adversary at warp speed – not always to their, or subsequently your, delight. What was said in haste becomes a document of record so pause, count to ten, have a cup of tea and then communicate. Speed is not always of the essence.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is fighting extradition to Sweden and undoubtedly faces a difficult 2011, but he has exposed the dangers of document security in the digital age and become a household name. What business and government has to understand is that this is not a one off. We got a whiff of the future when the Daily Telegraph lit a torch under Westminster over MPs’ expenses. The WikiLeaks exposures are of a far greater order of magnitude and point to either a scary or exhilarating future.

The genie is out of the bottle and organisations are going to have huge problems cramming it back in.

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