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Don't type it into your computer

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A South Marion Citizen editorial

By The Staff

Back when computers started to come in at newspapers, about 30 years ago or so, journalists were taught from the beginning, “Don’t type anything into the computer that you don’t want to see in print.”

Even the most innocent jokes would have a way of accidentally finding their way into the newspaper, much to the embarrassment of the writer and the publication. Quite often, there were apologies issued to the public, and reprimands to the writers.

Now we come to the year 2010, and evidently that same message has not been passed on to U.S. government personnel, from the top diplomats on down.

Over the past weekend we saw the leak of thousands of “classified” documents by Wikileaks, an organization that seems to specialize in revealing government secrets.

The debate will rage on over whether these documents should have been published. In America, we just had a big election in which the “We the people” crowd took giant strides forward, and “We the people” backers say that they are the government, not the bureaucrats, and that they have a right to know what goes on.

Government agencies, however, say that release of the documents could be damaging to national security.

Regardless, you have to go back to that old computer class warning, and wonder why people in government were careless enough to commit their thoughts to paper or to electronic messages, where they could be accessed by someone, someday.

Well, that someday is here, and while we hear a lot of complaining about Wikileaks and its founder, so far we haven’t heard condemnation of the people who left this paper and electronic trail, only to be embarrassed when someone found it and published it.

We hope that our local officials have learned this lesson. Florida has one of the best public records and open meeting laws in the country. Maybe the federal government should follow that example, and make all documents public record from the moment they are created. Perhaps a new law could operate better than the snail’s pace at which the Freedom of Information Act seems to run.

Then maybe the bureaucrats would learn to use a little more discretion when they write things into their computers, and the embarrassment that they claim they are suffering could be avoided.

If nothing else, though, let’s not shoot the messenger, the Wikileaks people. Telling Americans what their government is saying should not be a crime.