In light of Wikileaks, I've been reconsidering this.
Back in the 1980s when finding internet access or time on a machine faster than 1mhz was a huge achievement, "information wants to be free" meant "let us use your networks for non-commercial purposes that help them grow."
From hacking came a lot of good things. Better programming; increased security; cutting through the academic and business horse shit that locked technology into repetitive, categorical, and rather boring uses. From it also came some adventure and fun.
But now, hacking is more of an academic art than anything else. Research known exploits and run a fuzzer until you find an injection or overflow waiting to happen, then ta-da! You win. As a result, I don't think "information wants to be free" applies to hacking when you can make one phone call with your credit card and have fast internet access, and another phone call to get a computer 10,000 times faster than anything we had in the 1980s.
File sharing, while I love the idea of it, takes piracy from an elite who further the technology, and instead makes it an everyday way for much of America to steal its content. Many people are computer-literate now, and they're going online not to find rare and technical information, but to download movies, games and music. That's a different use entirely.
Wikileaks also strikes me as a case of "hackers" (if copying stuff to a thumb drive counts as "hacking") going too far in the wrong direction. Ultimately the exposure of diplomatic networks will increase instability and make the United States more inclined to be fascist, not the reverse. In addition, those who worked with the United States toward good causes are already feeling the hurt. "Information wants to be free" doesn't mean "and you can ignore the consequences."
Consider these cases:
1. I post 1.4gb of credit card numbers online in the ideal that it will destroy the financial system and create world anarcho-socialism.
2. You write a novel; it takes you two years. I post it online in Kindle, Nook and Sony reader formats.
3. You take out $20m in loans to make a movie or a video game, and you spend five years of your life on the project, hoping that you can leverage this into a career. I post your game or movie online before it is released.
We'll never know how sales are affected because we will never know if the people downloading would have bought it anyway, but what's really lost is the newness of the material. If your neighbor reads the newspaper, figures out which are the good stories, and then tells you about them while you're fishing, what incentive do you have to buy the newspaper?
We -- the hackers of today -- need to think long and hard about this. By destroying the ability of others to profit from their work, we may be sabotaging the very people we sought to empower all those years ago.
Just $0.02, or probably worth a lot less in this recession. - "Information wants to be free," Slashdot.org
If we thought it would make the world better, we'd be standing behind Wikileaks.
We don't feel that way. Leaks undermine political process. They throw the good out with the bad. They also increase distrust and paranoia. There will always be some secrets and that's especially vital in diplomacy -- doesn't anyone read Machiavelli and de Toqueville anymore?
1. If government is to be supervised through open information, it needs to be on an ongoing basis by those who can understand that information. Periodic mass panic attacks are much less rational.
2. Much information from government isn't released because 95% of the voters cannot handle it. Horrible things happen in politics, and sometimes good things happen that have to be kept secret, too. The voter doesn't get this. He just reacts emotionally. So democracies hide more information than almost any other kind of regime, because of the kneejerk tendencies of the voter.
3. Anyone touching these documents is in for a rude surprise. Law has changed a lot since The Pentagon Papers, and unlike those, there was never any doubt of the provenance of these documents. They are information stolen from the American government.
4. The media circus over WikiLeaks rewards the wrong people. Democracy provides many ways to oversee the actions of government, or change the government. The heroes are the people who labor each day to improve this situation. The drama queens are these lazy WikiLeaks people who, having neglected to use ANY of the mechanisms of a modern democracy (for which our taxes pay), have instead opted to have a destructive tantrum and whore for attention on national TV.
Assange will be tried, most of the 4chanymous fools LOIC-ing Mastercard are going to be fined amounts they cannot repay, and the Pirate Party is about to vanish into Swedish prisons. LOL
The fallout of this release will be a lot of dead good guys, one dead bad guy (Assange), and increased likelihood of war and nuclear proliferation. Good work, Wikileaks!