The most recent WikiLeaks disclosures, consisting of tens of thousands of reports and analyses made by US embassies and diplomatic missions around the world, may or may not lead to greater public scrutiny – and hence democratic accountability, as Mr Assange hopes – of the conduct of foreign policy.
The most vociferous criticism of the disclosures has come from those most embarrassed by them, although others charge that they have put the lives and security of confidants at risk. But historians and international-relations scholars have been contemplating the wider consequences of WikiLeaks, looking beyond the content of particular cables to consider the ramifications for their own craft and the future study of the early 21st century.
Some fear that the disclosures, rather than catalysing increased transparency, may constrain the future ability of scholars to understand how decisions were made.
Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University, Massachusetts, believes that the leaks will result in less being written down, with communications conducted more informally where possible.
“Governments do not respond to security breaches by surrendering themselves to the fates,” he said.
He predicted that the circulation of information through government will be tightened and narrowed, making it more difficult for academics to assess the inputs and contours of decision-making.
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A government strategy promises more access to digital material and more freedom to use it. Zoe Corbyn reports
The proliferation of online resources and the digitisation of source material have revolutionised many aspects of academics’ working lives.
But researchers who work with online content have been frustrated by the UK’s copyright laws, which have not kept up with the changing online environment.
The Government now has a new high-level strategy to update the legal framework and simplify the rules to allow researchers greater access to material and more freedom to use it.
The proposals are in a report, The Way Ahead: A Strategy for Copyright in the Digital Age, released late last month. They are made in acknowledgement of what the report says is “a mismatch between the expectations of users and what copyright currently allows”.
The elements of the strategy that are of most relevance to academics relate to orphan works – material that is in copyright but for which the rights holder cannot be identified or found – and the way in which contract law and copyright law co-exist online.
The strategy was formulated by the Intellectual Property Office, which is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Matt Cope, its head of digital technology, said he recognised that differences between copyright law and contract law were a problem online.
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