One week from finishing my intense first semester as a grad school at one of the country’s leading International Affairs Schools [Yay, Elliott School!], the world and particularly the US finds itself enmeshed in the Wikileaks ‘situation’. Many of my classmates work at the State Department, and I can tell how this is uncomfortable for them. What an interesting time to be studying international affairs and foreign policy – EXCEPT… Yesterday, I received an advisory email from the University suggesting I consider not looking at Wikileaks material if I have any thought to getting a job with a security clearance – which many GWU student do. Of course, someone telling me not to do something makes me want to do it – just a peep, but who knows how much is really there that’s probably really interesting – from a policy as well as a gossip perspective. Yet, I have not, and probably will not look at any material on Wikileaks. Perhaps a clearance is in my work future – I’d like to leave that possibility open and not have to worry about a polygraph catching me in a lie.
Still, the idea of it, from a communications and information access perspective shows an interesting dilemma in the modern world. The material is ‘classified’ and its release has not been authorized. Looking at it online could be construed by potential employers [who need employees that can be cleared] as illegally accessing classified material. Sharing it with others would be worse, and a comment on your character as someone probably not worthy of a clearance. We certainly can’t cite it in papers or class projects. But, realistically, this information is now in the public domain, and anyone can see it. This creates a rather unprecedented conundrum for job-seeking students [and even some faculty for that matter] in the digital age. Where is the line on protected content now drawn? Will some of us really maintain that self control and integrity to follow the rules, even when the insights that could come from consuming the material could influence work opinions, judgement, understanding and maturity in ways we could not have without perhaps years of experience? This issue is fascinating, complex and way far from being resolved.